Noam Chomsky has proven, over his 93 years, to be one of the greatest academics in the world. A towering giant who chose to be on the side of rigorous truth telling and justice. Lesser men have sold their principles for money or power but Chomsky never has and never will. One thing he has earned, because of his principled pursuits, is respect.
Out of respect for Chomsky, who has better things to do, I’ve decided to take a shot and respond on his behalf to the “Open Letter to Noam Chomsky (and other like-minded intellectuals) on the Russia-Ukraine war.” I’m not an academic, just a public school bus driver, but I have had a lot of time to read up on the unjustified US proxy war with Russia. I’m concerned as a working class American on the propensity of the US government to use regular Ukrainians as cannon fodder. I’m concerned about the US foreign policy goals, it would seem, of controlling the world despite most of the rest of the world saying thanks but no thanks. I am finally concerned about the totalitarian media hammer banging away on our brains every day.
Frankly, I stopped believing in the brainwashing machine years ago as have most Americans. Unfortunately most people haven’t the time or the energy to dig for the truth. Plus there has been a rise in disinformation campaigns and counter disinformation campaigns with less and less outlets for radical investigative journalists and academics. In their place are endless echo chambers for the mainstream narrative with a twist. That’s where these authors come in with a classic rendition of propagandistic tropes and enforcement of their framing of the issue.
Obviously, I think very little of this smear attempt but sadly, I’ve seen this sloppy article shared too many times. I’ve been wanting to write a response to one of these cookie cutter hit pieces anyways. The poorly written one taking a swing at Chomsky seems perfect for a working class guy like me to stand up against. So here goes it, hold my beer!
First off, these patterns the authors are laying out are lazy strawman arguments. Out of all seven in which they insinuate a knowledge of Chomsky’s position, they quote him only once. This is typical of smear campaigns and weak arguments, two things that go hand and hand together. Show some respect for Chomsky, quote him fairly. Show some respect for academic debate and make well reasoned arguments to advance us all towards truth. It’s obvious they don’t care about truth.
Chomsky said in the one quote they gave, “the fact of the matter is Crimea is off the table. We may not like it. Crimeans apparently do like it.” They list this as “Pattern #1: Denying Ukraine’s sovereign integrity,” and go on to speak about Crimea, leaving out an impressive amount of unsavory and important details, such as the 2014 overthrow of the Ukrainian elected President in a violent US backed coup facilitated by Nazis. I’d also like to add that pretty much everyone, including Henry Kissinger, knows that Crimea is off the table. Zelensky is the only fool who says it and he lives and breaths nonstop lies for a living.
Seriously, in “Pattern #1” they mention the Budapest memorandum, the Treaty on Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation from 1997, how the Tatars were deported by Stalin in 1944 and the referendum of 2014 which they counter by saying the Crimeans voted for independence in 1991 from the USSR, but they don’t mention the fascist coup that overthrew their democratically elected government in 2014? It’s actually the most important aspect to know and they purposefully bury it.
In doing so it makes it seem that Russia was engaged in a conflict with Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 for no reason. Like Putin woke up one morning and was like, “what am I going to do today, let’s see, finished the crossword puzzle, took the dog for a walk, how about I invade Ukraine?”
This is their position. They stated it at the beginning in one word. Unjustified. And they really spend no time bothering with backing that claim up. What bothers me is not so much that these propagandists would do such a thing, but that so many people just accept it on face value. And with that acceptance they lose all threads of reason and the why becomes a question of feelings. That Putin is simply evil. A classic propagandistic trope, the whole good vs evil that the west is so fond of in all it’s movies and tv shows.
Well it’s hard to sum up Russia’s justification succinctly but let me try in my own words as a person who lives in the belly of the beast the United States and has watched my country murder millions for US profits. As a person who understands how absolutely monstrous our foreign policy has been in overthrowing governments in something like 53 nations. That looks at 850 foreign military bases, the dozen aircraft carriers, the nuclear weapons, the trillion dollar defense budgets and understands that those are the tools of domination of the world. That has watched the US march it’s NATO east in five waves towards the Russian border. That has listened to the war drums beating here louder and louder for years. That I have expected the US to box in and attempt to destroy Russia for many many years now.
If I saw the writing on the wall why wouldn’t Russia? It’s not like we were being sneaky about it. We attempted a color revolution in 2004 and then we succeeded in 2014 with the help of Bandera fascists that the CIA has had deep connections with since literally WW2. We installed a President. He appointed foreigners to top secretary positions in the government. We started a NATO training base there in 2015. We spent something like $7.5 Billion on this project of controlling Ukraine, building up their military and re-establishing Ukrainian nationalist control. All this is true. Since there is no winning against this evidence they ignore and bury it.
Which brings me to “Pattern #2: Treating Ukraine as an American pawn on a geo-political chessboard.” Yes. I’m denying the agency of regular Ukrainians that they say want to be part of the west just like they deny the agency of the millions of Ukrainians who want to be part of the east. But more importantly, what agency? It’s a corrupt, poor, authoritarian country ruled by oligarchs and the US. Therefore the Ukrainians have little actual agency. Even in the eastern part where they separated after the fascists came to power, they had little independent agency as well since they were recognized by no country for 8 years. Crimea also, agency denied despite their resounding vote to join Russia and peace since then.
The authors really milk the classic propaganda tropes for “Pattern #2” though don’t they? Saying that Chomsky’s position “is a slap in the face to millions of Ukrainians who are risking their lives for the desire to live in a free country,” made me tear up a little. Look I’m aware that the Russian terrorists hate our freedom, that we must tame the Russian savages and it’s just when the Ukrainians look at our US Constitution it shines like a beacon of light for these Ukrainians, like a lighthouse calling them home or some shit. I understand that Russia is pure evil, that the devil literally took a dump and it was Putin. But why do the authors also categorically ignore the millions in the Donbas that were being shelled constantly for the past 8 years because they wanted their freedom? Because they can’t have it both ways can they? Oh wait! People want to believe bs propaganda so it hardly needs to make sense.
I already addressed the authors on “Pattern #3. Suggesting that Russia was threatened by NATO,” but to reiterate, they definitely are. Like the main point of NATO is literally to threaten Russia and kick the ass of smaller countries the US doesn’t like. So many people just won’t understand this very simple point.
Now we get to my favorite argument, ” Pattern #4. Stating that the U.S. isn’t any better than Russia.” This is where they call Chomsky on whataboutism, a ridiculous concept meant to crush comparative analysis which of course is a critical component of any reasonable perspective. The weird thing is that the authors say that they are, “not in a position to correct your historical metaphors and, needless to say, we condemn the unjustified killings of civilians by any power in the past.” Like wow! These authors aren’t leftists like Chomsky are they? Who am I even reading? These folks are what? Ambivalent about Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and on and on? I mean these authors don’t even take the opportunity here to say that maybe the US was wrong in the Vietnam war, just not one mention of the US issues. They literally give us nothing. Then they sand on that nothing as moral thinkers. Just the straight up position that the US past doesn’t matter and that they basically support the US as leader of the world. As Zelensky said in front of the US Congress, that Biden was the President of the World.
Chomsky is blamed for rationalizing Putin’s goals in “Pattern #5. Whitewashing Putin’s goals for invading Ukraine.” Then they go in and just make up evil demonizing goals on behalf of Putin and try and sell us that that is the truth in one paragraph hitting all the push button words: Genocide, purging and re-education. These brilliant academic authors explain to us simpletons that Russia’s long-term goal is destroying Ukraine. Ummm… ok. Well they didn’t do it when they were both part of the USSR, or the past 30 years afterwards, so maybe this dumbed down “destroying” hypothesis needs some working on.
This one is full to the eyeballs with poop, “Pattern #6. Assuming that Putin is interested in a diplomatic solution.” So clearly I am with Chomsky. The US is using Ukraine in a proxy war with Russia and doesn’t want it to end. Russia was offering Peace Talks on day 5, they wanted to free the Donbas and get out after a lightning campaign that immediately weakened the Ukrainian army so that Zelensky would surrender. The Russians figured out pretty quickly that Zelensky wasn’t the person who made these decisions, the US was. But worst of all, these authors elevated their hypothesis from destroyed to “Russia’s goal is erasure and subjugation of Ukraine.” Wow! So that’s pretty scary if it were true, but if it’s a total lie then, well the authors are just propagandist war mongers on behalf of the US.
Their final point, ” Pattern #7. Advocating that yielding to Russian demands is the way to avert the nuclear war.” So again, obviously it is a way to advert nuclear war, which is something everyone should want, even bs propagandists for the US unless they are totally insane. Here they elevate Russia’s goals even further, if you can imagine it, to the “elimination of Ukrainians off the face of the Earth.” Wow. Yeah, like if this stuff were actually true, damn. But unfortunately for the insane propagandist authors it’s raging lunacy of a dangerous and unprecedented variety. That these folks are sending this nonsense as an open letter to Noam Chomsky and that anyone who reads it doesn’t understand how much ridiculous propaganda is filled in these remarks doesn’t bode well for averting nuclear war.
Like I draw the exact opposite conclusions than this paranoid insane drivel concludes. Who are these people? They certainly don’t seem to have values similar at all to mine. They’re basically making the argument to crush Russia now because “China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are watching,” and they have nuclear weapons too. They might as well throw in some racist comment about how these dumb savages need to be afraid of the US or there is no telling what these foreigners will do.
Finally they finish by threatening Chomsky and calling him a Russian agent. No, not really, but basically. This whole thing sounds like it was written by Bandera Ukrainian expatriots the CIA has been funding for decades. I can’t believe that so many people are reading these authors’ open letter and nodding along with it. Just stop.
I got a response from Noam Chomsky with his response to the open letter.
Open Letter to Noam Chomsky (and other like-minded intellectuals) on the Russia-Ukraine war
20 May 2022
Dear Professor Chomsky,
We are a group of Ukrainian academic economists who were grieved by a series of your recent interviews and commentaries on the Russian war on Ukraine. We believe that your public opinion on this matter is counter-productive to bringing an end to the unjustified Russian invasion of Ukraine and all the deaths and suffering it has brought into our home country.
Having familiarized ourselves with the body of your interviews on this matter, we noticed several recurring fallacies in your line of argument. In what follows, we wish to point out these patterns to you, alongside with our brief response:
Pattern #1: Denying Ukraine’s sovereign integrity
In your interview to Jeremy Scahill at The Intercept from April 14, 2022 you claimed: “The fact of the matter is Crimea is off the table. We may not like it. Crimeans apparently do like it.” We wish to bring to your attention several historical facts:
The historical facts below are correct, but have no relation to my comments. “Crimeans” here means people living in Crimea, in accord with normal usage. Nothing is said above about the legitimacy of the elections. The fact that it is off the table for now – that’s the topic of the interview – is recognized by virtually every specialist (Anatol Lieven, etc., virtually without exception), and by President Zelensky, who suggested exactly that. That “Crimeans apparently do like it” is the report of independent observers who condemned the referendum as illegitimate but concluded that it apparently fairly well reflected public opinion. Contrary to what you say here, it has no relation to the legitimacy of elections or anything else you mention.
We can therefore dismiss Pattern #1
First, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 has violated the Budapest memorandum (in which it promised to respect and protect Ukrainian borders, including Crimea), the Treaty on Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation (which it signed with Ukraine in 1997 with the same promises), and, according to the order of the UN International Court of Justice, it violated the international law.
Second, “Crimeans” is not an ethnicity or a cohesive group of people – but Crimean Tatars are. These are the indigenous people of Crimea, who weredeported by Stalin in 1944 (and were able to come back home only when the USSR was falling apart), and were forced to flee again in 2014 when Russia occupied Crimea. Of those who stayed, dozens have been persecuted, jailed on false charges and missing, probably dead.
Third, if by ‘liking’ you refer to the outcome of the Crimean “referendum” on March 16, 2014, please note that this “referendum” was held at gunpoint anddeclared invalid by the General Assembly of the United Nations. At the same time, the majority of voters in Crimea supported Ukraine’s independence in 1991.
Pattern #2: Treating Ukraine as an American pawn on a geo-political chessboard
Whether willingly or unwillingly, your interviews insinuate that Ukrainians are fighting with Russians because the U.S. instigated them to do so, that Euromaidan happened because the U.S. tried to detach Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence, etc. Such an attitude denies the agency of Ukraine and is a slap in the face to millions of Ukrainians who are risking their lives for the desire to live in a free country. Simply put, have you considered the possibility that Ukrainians would like to detach from the Russian sphere of influence due to a history of genocide, cultural oppression, and constant denial of the right to self-determination?
Note that your charges have no citations. There’s a good reason for that. There are none. They are all false. I neither stated nor “insinuated” anything of the sort. Others have, including leading scholars of the region, but I haven’t. Perhaps you’re confusing me with them.
We can therefore dismiss Pattern #2
Pattern #3. Suggesting that Russia was threatened by NATO
In your interviews, you are eager to bring up the alleged promise by [US Secretary of State] James Baker and President George H.W. Bush to Gorbachev that, if he agreed to allow a unified Germany to rejoin NATO, the U.S. would ensure that NATO would move ‘not one inch eastward.’ First, please note that the historicity of this promise is highly contested among scholars, although Russia has been active in promoting it. The premise is that NATO’s eastward expansion left Putin with no other choice but to attack. But the reality is different. Eastern European states joined, and Ukraine and Georgia aspired to join NATO, in order to defend themselves from Russian imperialism. They were right in their aspirations, given that Russia did attack Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Moreover, current requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO came in direct response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, consistent with NATO expansion being a consequence of Russian imperialism, and not vice versa.
In addition, we disagree with the notion that sovereign nations shouldn’t be making alliances based on the will of their people because of disputed verbal promises made by James Baker and George H.W. Bush to Gorbachev.
The few parts above that are relevant to what I said are incorrect. The promise is not “alleged”: it’s explicit. You can find the documents in the National Security Archive. E.g., “Repeating what Bush said at the Malta summit in December 1989, Baker tells Gorbachev: “The President and I have made clear that we seek no unilateral advantage in this process” of inevitable German unification. Baker goes on to say, “We understand the need for assurances to the countries in the East. If we maintain a presence in a Germany that is a part of NATO, there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east.”
The rest has no relation to anything I’ve said. Try to find a citation, and you will again fail.
We can therefore dismiss Pattern #3
Pattern #4. Stating that the U.S. isn’t any better than Russia
While you admittedly call the Russian invasion of Ukraine a “war crime,” it appears to us that you cannot do so without naming in the same breath all of the past atrocities committed by the U.S. abroad (e.g., in Iraq or Afghanistan) and, ultimately, spending most of your time discussing the latter. As economists, we are not in a position to correct your historical metaphors and, needless to say, we condemn the unjustified killings of civilians by any power in the past. However, not bringing Putin up on war crime charges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague just because some past leader did not receive similar treatment would be the wrong conclusion to draw from any historical analogy. In contrast, we argue that prosecuting Putin for the war crimes that are being deliberately committed in Ukraine would set an international precedent for the world leaders attempting to do the same in the future.
I compared Putin’s invasion to the US invasion of Iraq and the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland. It was correct to do so. Every apparatchik in Russia is eager to condemn US crimes, often correctly, but of course not mentioning Russian crimes. I refuse to adopt that model, as you suggest – not “insinuate,” explicitly suggest.
I agree with you that it would be fine if a war crimes trial of Putin set a precedent for bringing George W. Bush and numerous others for trial. But you know perfectly well that there is no hint of that in any of the voluminous discourse on the subject, and there is no possibility of it. See if you can find one comment anywhere in the mainstream referring to the invasion of Iraq as a war crime for which the perpetrators should be brought to trial.
We can therefore dismiss Pattern #4
Pattern #5. Whitewashing Putin’s goals for invading Ukraine
In your interviews, you go to great lengths to rationalize Putin’s goals of “demilitarization” and “neutralization” of Ukraine. Please note that, in his TV address from February 24, 2022, marking the beginning of the full-scale war, the verbatim goal declared by Putin for this “military operation” is to “denazify” Ukraine. This concept builds on his long pseudo-historical article from July 2021, denying Ukraine’s existence and claiming that Ukrainians were not a nation. As elaborated in the ‘denazification manual’ published by the Russian official press agency RIA Novosti, a “Nazi” is simply a human being who self-identifies as Ukrainian, the establishment of a Ukrainian state thirty years ago was the “Nazification of Ukraine,” and any attempt to build such a state has to be a “Nazi” act. According to this genocide handbook, denazification implies a military defeat, purging, and population-level “re-education”. ‘Demilitarization’ and ‘neutralization’ imply the same goal – without weapons Ukraine will not be able to defend itself, and Russia will reach its long-term goal of destroying Ukraine.
Again, you give no citations, for the simple reason that there are none. These charges are all flat false. I have never once “rationalized” the invasion or hinted at any such thing. In fact, I’ve condemned it in harsher terms than you have, to my knowledge, and I’ve emphasized the truism – repeat TRUISM – that presenting background is not justification.
We can therefore dismiss Pattern #5
Pattern #6. Assuming that Putin is interested in a diplomatic solution
All of us very much hoped for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement, which could have saved many human lives. Yet, we find it preposterous how you repeatedly assign the blame for not reaching this settlement to Ukraine (for not offering Putin some “escape hatch”) or the U.S. (for supposedly insisting on the military rather than diplomatic solution) instead of the actual aggressor, who has repeatedly and intentionally bombed civilians, maternity wards, hospitals, and humanitarian corridors during those very “negotiations”. Given the escalatory rhetoric (cited above) of the Russian state media, Russia’s goal is erasure and subjugation of Ukraine, not a “diplomatic solution.”
What you find “preposterous” is well-documented historical fact. If you actually look at what I wrote, you will see that it documents in detail how the US – repeat, the US, not Ukraine — has undermined the possibility of negotiations and continues to do so right now. The rest is irrelevant to the question of negotiations as a matter of simple logic.
We can therefore dismiss Pattern #6.
As for the rest, since I have never advocated “yielding to Russian demands” I need not respond at all.
Note that that covers all of your charges, without exception.
A final comment
This war will either be ended by diplomacy or not. You say not a word in your letter about diplomacy, apart from falsehoods about the well-documented US record. By definition, diplomacy will offer Putin some kind of escape hatch. Your rejection of this option entails conducting a ghastly experiment with the lives of Ukrainians: Let’s see whether Putin will slink away in complete defeat, or whether he will use the weapons that we all know he has to devastate Ukraine and possibly even worse.
I find it shocking to see advocacy of that ghastly experiment, which is the alternative to seeking a diplomatic settlement (as, incidentally, Zelensky has proposed, much along the lines that I and others have outlined). Or to be more accurate, it is the alternative to undermining the search for a diplomatic settlement as the US has been doing, as well-documented.
Pattern #7. Advocating that yielding to Russian demands is the way to avert the nuclear war
Since the Russian invasion, Ukraine lives in a constant nuclear threat, not just due to being a prime target for Russian nuclear missiles but also due to the Russian occupation of Ukrainian nuclear power plants.
But what are the alternatives to fighting for freedom? Unconditional surrender and then elimination of Ukrainians off the face of the Earth (see above)? Have you ever wondered why President Zelenskyy, with the overwhelming support of the Ukrainian people, is pleading with Western leaders to provide heavy weapons despite the potential threat of nuclear escalation? The answer to this question is not “Because of Uncle Sam”, but rather due to the fact that Russian war crimes inBucha and many other Ukrainian cities and villages have shown that living under Russian occupation is a tangible “hell on earth” happening right now, requiring immediate action.
Arguably, any concessions to Russia will not reduce the probability of a nuclear war but lead to escalation. If Ukraine falls, Russia may attack other countries (Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Finland or Sweden) and can also use its nuclear blackmail to push the rest of Europe into submission. And Russia is not the only nuclear power in the world. Other countries, such as China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are watching. Just imagine what will happen if they learn that nuclear powers can get whatever they want using nuclear blackmail.
Professor Chomsky, we hope you will consider the facts and re-evaluate your conclusions. If you truly value Ukrainian lives as you claim to, we would like to kindly ask you to refrain from adding further fuel to the Russian war machine by spreading views very much akin to Russian propaganda.
Should you wish to engage further on any of the above-mentioned points, we are always open to discussion.
Bohdan Kukharskyy, City University of New York
Anastassia Fedyk, University of California, Berkeley
Yuriy Gorodnichenko, University of California, Berkeley
Ilona Sologoub, VoxUkraine NGO