Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government


The Usual Suspects: Osama Bin Chomsky and America’s Academic al Quaeda


October 2001

by Mackubin T. Owens

The terrible events of September 11 galvanized public opinion in the United States and unified the country to an extent not seen since World War II. This unity extends to two issues: the belief that for all its flaws, the United States is a fundamentally decent regime that has a legitimate claim to our loyalty; and support for the use of military force in a war against terrorism.

Of course, not all agree. Not surprisingly, the center of dissent, redolent of the anti-war protests of the 1960s, is the American college campus. There is a reason for this. When the Vietnam War ended, the anti-war movement fragmented. Many of the former protesters began what the German New Leftist Rudi Dutschke called the "long march through the institutions." The most important of these institutions was the academy, where from their tenured positions, the old protesters could continue to inculcate into new generations of students the idea that the United States of "Amerika" (or Amerikkka) is irredeemably racist and oppressive.

Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that the terrorists who planned and executed the attacks of September 11 were merely expressing in more refined form the same anti-Americanism that has been a staple of the American university for three decades. The ravings of Osama bin Laden and those of, for instance, MIT professor Noam Chomsky, are interchangeable. Consider this gem from Chomsky on September 12. "In scale, [the terrorist attacks of September 11] may not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and killing unknown numbers of people (no one knows, because the US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it)."

Chomsky has argued that the Cold War was an American crusade "to protect our doctrine that the rich should plunder the poor." In its struggle with the Soviet Union, the United States picked up "where the Nazis had left off." "The pretext for Washington’s terrorist wars {i.e. Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Guatemala, Iraq, etc.) was self-defense, the standard official justification for just about any monstrous act, even the Nazi Holocaust."

An objective assessment of Chomsky’s anti-American propaganda reveals that he mercilessly twists the facts, distorts or even inverts the political context, and abuses the historical record. Nonetheless, according to the Chicago Tribune, Chomsky is "the most cited living author. Among intellectual luminaries of all eras, Chomsky placed eighth, just behind Plato and Sigmund Freud." Of course, this is the same brilliant academic who still denies Pol Pot’s atrocities in Cambodia in the 1970s. It is not just Chomsky who has prompted all too many American college students to despise their own country—a free, open and democratic society—while giving aid and comfort to the bin Ladens and Saddam Husseins of the world. There are plenty of others who have made the long march through academia.

Take the case of Bill Ayers. The September 11 New York Times ran a fawning profile of Ayers and his Weatherman terrorist comrade, Bernardine Dohrn under the headline of "No regrets for a love of Explosives." In this piece, which may have been the last thing that some of the victims of the World Trade Center attack read, Ayers boasted of bombing the NYPD headquarters in 1970, the Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972. He proudly added that he didn’t "regret setting the bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough."

What more he believes should have been done is indicated by the fact that the bomb that accidentally killed his Weather Underground comrades in 1970 was intended for an Army dance at Fort Dix. Had it been detonated as planned, hundreds, if not thousands, of young soldiers and their dates would have been killed and maimed.

America, says Ayers, "is not a just and fair and decent place." To the claim that America is a great country, Ayers’s response is that "it makes me want to puke." Ayers is now a "distinguished professor" of education at the University of Illinois, Chicago. But the only real difference between him and bin Laden is that the latter is the more efficient terrorist.

The irony is that the country so despised by Chomsky, Ayers, and other members of America’s academic al Quaeda is a great country. Despite the fact that Americans have not always lived up to it, the United States was founded on a principle of justice—the principle of equality as articulated in the Declaration of Independence: "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…" The simple meaning of this famous phrase is that no one has the right to rule another without the consent of the latter. Some men are not born "with saddles on their backs" to be ridden by other men born "booted and spurred."

This understanding of the Declaration is often rejected or ridiculed because the author of those words, Thomas Jefferson and many of the other founders held slaves. "Sophisticated" people counter that that what Jefferson meant in that passage was that all wealthy white men (not women) were equal.

But this is wrong. The founders did believe the common-sense meaning of the passage. Of course, in the context of the 18th century, they were constrained by necessity and could go only so far toward justice. Abraham Lincoln explained it thus: "They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all men were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard for a free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere."

Lincoln argued persuasively that the founders compromised on slavery out of necessity, not because they were hypocrites. Indeed, there is ample evidence that the founders understood clearly the conflict between slavery and the principles upon which the US was created. Jefferson decried the effects of slavery, not only on the slave, but also on the slave owner, and on the society that countenanced slavery: "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."

Lincoln’s view of the founders is supported by the most vociferous defenders of slavery, including John C. Calhoun: "[the proposition "all men are created equal"] as now understood, has become the most false and dangerous of all political errors….We now begin to experience the danger of admitting so great an error to have a place in the declaration of independence." Alexander H. Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy contended in a little-known and little-appreciated speech in March 1861 that the Confederate constitution, the "cornerstone" of which was the "great truth" of slavery and inequality, would correct the fatal error identified by Calhoun.

If the American founding were like all prior foundings, one could not criticize any action of the government, no matter how unjust. Slavery? Imperialism? The impact of westward expansion of the North American Indians? If the American regime were not based on justice, the only proper response to these occurrences would be that of the Athenians at Melos, as described by Thucydides: "Questions of justice arise only between equals. As for the rest, the strong do what they will. The weak suffer what they must."

The United States is worth defending, not only physically, but intellectually. The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the right of Chomsky, Ayers, and the rest of the academic al Quaeda to say what they wish. But the rest of us also have First Amendment rights. And that means taking every opportunity to expose the pronouncements of Chomsky et al for what they are—the lunatic ravings of those who hide behind the Constitution while attempting to destroy it and whose perspective is not that much different from the pathological hatred and fanaticism that motivates Osama bin Laden.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, RI, and an adjunct fellow of the Ashbrook Center. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of the War College, Navy Department, or Department of Defense.