Without Sin?

The essential problem with the tidal wave of patriotism after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was that it was disingenuous, based as it was on a profound, willful ignorance of American history. Even a remedial understanding of America's numerous unilateral actions against other countries leads one to ask whether thousands of American innocents died in New York; Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C. last year as a direct result of our consistently belligerent foreign policy choices.

Days after the attacks, MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky made precisely that claim. One of the most erudite voices of the left, Chomsky offered a series of contrarian, brutally honest interviews to anyone who would listen—primarily foreign and very local press outlets. Gathered into a slim, _96-page paperback, Chomsky's interviews carefully detail a historical catalog of American crimes, using the Bush administration's own definition of terrorism against itself.

It makes a solid, gut-wrenching case for the home of the free and the land of the brave as “a leading terrorist state”: the Carter administration's arming and assembly of extremist Muslims in Afghanistan to mire the Russians in war. Reagan's overthrow of Nicaragua through mined harbors, death squads and destroyed infrastructure. Sanctions against Iraq that have killed thousands of civilians. Clinton's bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant that is responsible for the deaths of thousands more than were killed in New York.

As the Bush administration's bellicose statements about Iraq prompt us down the path we've traveled before and we arrogantly refuse to reconsider our mistakes, Afghanistan lies in ruin, Osama bin Laden hasn't been captured, and the president fights the War on Terrorism by taking a vacation on his ranch. In Chomsky's important book, America's wave of the flag is beginning to look like the exaggerated gestures of a country with a very guilty conscience.

9-11 by Noam Chomsky; Seven Stories Press. Paperback, 96 pages, $8.95.

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