Home > Christopher Hitchens > Controversial Statement of the Week

Controversial Statement of the Week

Chomsky isn’t satisfied with mere equivalence:

Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.

You’d think a linguist would have a better grasp of the word, “uncontroversially.” Hitchens responds:

[I]t is remarkable that he should write as if the mass of evidence against Bin Laden has never been presented or could not have been brought before a court. This form of 9/11 denial doesn’t trouble to conceal an unstated but self-evident premise, which is that the United States richly deserved the assault on its citizens and its civil society. After all, as Chomsky phrases it so tellingly, our habit of “naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk … [is] as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes ‘Jew’ and ‘Gypsy.’ ” Perhaps this is not so true in the case of Tomahawk, which actually is the name of a weapon, but the point is at least as good as any other he makes.

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  1. Bill
    May 10, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Love Chomsky. I think he is right on, as usual. I asked these questions yesterday and I would like some opinion on them: “Is the killing of OBL really that momentuous, or is it simply a symbolic gesture that works more toward raising Obama’s approval ratings than protecting American citizens? At the time of his killing, OBL was already marginalized to the point of utter ineffectiveness. Did we really need to go to such extremes to kill him? What did the bravado serve other than to make for a good story and to provide political impetus to a President that needed it? Do you feel safer?

    • May 10, 2011 at 5:29 pm

      I’m comfortable with the premise that we should kill or capture civilization’s enemies. Dispatching with Bin Laden may also be more consequential than you let on. But let’s put that all aside for right now because Chomsky is saying much more than all that. The responsibility for 9/11 isn’t in doubt for anyone willing to confront reality. Also, to think that killing Bin Laden and killing President Bush is legally or morally similar is to slander thinking.

  2. Jack
    May 10, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    OBL has been a target of the US going back to Clinton. A time when most Americans never heard of OBL. To believe his death was partly political propaganda is correct but for the wrong reason. OBL still had power in the form of fund-raising for terrorist operations. Putting his name behind a cause was a major form of recieving financial backing. Killing him meant weakening Al Queda, plain and simple. The message has been sent. We will find you wherever you are even if it takes till the end of time. Obama has from day one focused on getting OBL, this was behind the scene and at a time when his presidency was new and his approval rate high.

  3. Bill
    May 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    If you are comfortable with “the premise that we should kill or capture”, then why not err with capture? Why not comply with international law and why not act, as Chomsky suggests, as a society that “professes some respect for law -where suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial”?

    I also think you are wrong to turn the comparison of Bush and OBL into simple slanderous rhetoric. Chomsky was using this comparison to make a point-which is that Bush’s crimes vastly exceeded those of OBL’s. Perhaps you would like to refute that before you come to an overly prompt, unfounded conclusion that Chomsky’s thinking is flawed. Until then, I think Chomsky’s perspective provides a difficult to swallow, but nonetheless, valid argument.

    • May 10, 2011 at 6:56 pm

      I’d be fine with capture, but killing a military target in a hostile and risky environment isn’t unreasonable. I’d like to know more about the circumstances of the raid as much as anybody, but I see no reason to assume a swift death was unjustified. We could easily have dropped a bomb on his compound increasing the risk to innocent civilians; we decided to increase the risk to our soldiers instead. I wonder if the morally superior Al-Qaeda would take the same care as the United States given similar capabilities?

      If you want to only scale (uncertain) death tolls we can play all sorts of misleading games with moral weight. Compared to fatalities caused by automobiles, Bush might need to send his application for beatification. I guess we shouldn’t even concern ourselves with such small-scale terrorists like Bin Laden, it might distract us from the persistent villainy of cholesterol.

      If I thought this was a more complicated question, I might give you an answer noting that collateral damage and the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians are both morally and legally distinct. International law is clear. I’m disappointed everyone’s moral judgement isn’t.

  4. Dave
    May 11, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    You know what I noticed? A lot of the early criticism of the bin Laden killing focused on how irrelevant he had become to the organization in recent years, only to have it come out that he was active in running Al Qaeda right up until the day he died. Just something I observed.

    Anyway, I’m curious what precepts of international law we were supposed to follow. Because, if the suggestion is that we should have asked Pakistan’s permission first, it raises this question: Are you crazy? Even if you assume Pakistan’s government wasn’t complicit in hiding him- which is fair- you can’t deny that the government and military and ISI is so riven with double agents and corruption that it’s practically certain any request for the strike would have resulted in us finding an empty house.

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