Hizbullah & Deterring Israeli Aggression
By Noam Chomsky at Jul 23, 2006
Reply from Noam Chomsky:
Thanks for raising an important question.
We can drop abstruse matters like consequentialism, and keep to one of the most elementary of moral truisms: we are responsible for the anticipated consequences of our actions, or inaction. Of course, that does not provide a simple guide, because there are always many varied and often conflicting consequences. But the question does come up all the time, and is worth considering. Take a few examples.
In 1977, Edward Herman and I revealed gross distortions, often outright (and uncorrectable) lies, in coverage of Cambodia. In particular, we pointed out that in the major book on the topic, considered then the prime source (rightly), the death toll resulting from the US bombing of Cambodia was vastly exaggerated, apparently because of a misreading of "casualties" as "deaths." I was aware that pointing that out might embolden elements of US political and intellectual classes to continue their support for terrible crimes and their preparation for others. Not a consequence I wanted, of course, but I thought it was outweighed by the need to unearth the truth.
To take another case, more closely related to your apparent concerns, for about 30 years I've been harshly condemning crimes of the PLO, and writing that Israel should have the rights of any state in the international system, including the right of self-defense. I realized, of course, that such statements and the review of the evidence could well contribute to the dedication of the US government, with the strong support of articulate opinion, to provide the requisite means for outrageous Israeli atrocities and to the unilateral US undermining of the very real opportunities for political settlement. But again, I thought telling the truth outweighed those dire consequences. There are many other cases.
Interestingly, none of these cases has ever elicited a word of criticism. I don't recall receiving any letters from you about them, for example. Need we ask why? Turning to your question, an accurate account of my response to a question asked by a TV journalist in Lebanon, and the context, has already appeared on Znet: an article by Assaf Kfoury, who accompanied my wife and me throughout my trip to Lebanon (and knows far more about Lebanon than I do, as does Irene Gendzier, who also accompanied us throughout, including visits that you didn't learn about from your sources, such as much longer ones with the leading opponents of Hezbollah). See http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=22&ItemID=10568.
His account on Znet also answers your question. As he points out, the anticipated consequence of the comments is that they should "feed the right-wing rumor mill for a long time to come," thereby contributing to US-Israeli crimes against Palestinians and Lebanese. These are now reaching new levels of intensity, with the US-Israel virtually destroying Lebanon, continuing the massive assault against Gaza, and systematically pursuing their programs of annexation, cantonization, and imprisonment in the West Bank to ensure that Palestinian rights will never be recognized.
So yes, the anticipated consequences were very ugly -- though of course I didn't know then how grotesque US-Israeli behavior would become. I didn't anticipate that Israel would step up its atrocities (always with US backing and the complicity of articulate opinion and the media) by kidnapping two civilians in Gaza, a doctor and his brother, and removing them to the oblivion of the thousands of others like them in Israeli prisons, commonly without charges or sentenced in courts that are a bad joke, hence kidnapped.. That was June 24. On June 25, in probable retaliation, Palestinian militants captured a soldier of the attacking army, Corporal Gilad Shalit. Israel responded by sharp escalation of its crimes in Gaza, followed a few weeks later by the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and new US-Israeli war crimes in Lebanon.
The pretext is the kidnappings, but any person who bothers to think, instead of reflexively repeating state propaganda, knows that the US-Israel regard kidnapping is quite fine, including kidnapping of civilians, a far worse crime under international law than kidnapping of soldiers. The June 24 Israeli kidnappings are only one of many examples. Since the powerful don't investigate their own crimes, details are unknown, but there is plenty of evidence nevertheless. For example, the shocking revelations about Israel's secret prison/torture chambers, far worse than Guantanamo, in which hundreds of Lebanese have been kept, many abducted from Lebanon, some kept as hostages for many years. No one knows what happened to them, beyond the few who are acknowledged. There are some who are concerned about them, among them the father of the captured Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser, who expresse his sympathy for the families of the abducted Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails (Israeli radio, July 20).
That's barely the tip of an iceberg. We can dismiss the pretexts with contempt. Returning to your question, there are also "opportunity costs": while you and I are discussing this, we are not acting to put an end to the horrendous ongoing atrocities for which we both share responsibility. Back to the elementary moral truism.