Are (North) Americans just as immoral as terrorists? Noam Chomsky bluntly states “the U.S. itself is a leading terrorist state.”
And Chomsky has a persuasive argument to support this claim. At first glance, he appears to be right.
Sam Harris disagrees with him, but concedes that our recent history does appear to support Chomsky’s condemnation of our society. Consider these examples of shameful actions, which Harris, himself, acknowledges:
– our genocidal treatment of Native Americans
– one hundred years of slavery
– denying entry to Jewish refugees fleeing the death camps of the Third Reich
– our collusion with a long list of modern despots and our subsequent disregard for their appalling human rights records
– the bombing of Cambodia
– our recent refusals to sign the Kyoto protocol for greenhouse emissions, to support any ban on land mines, and to submit ourselves to the rulings of the International Criminal Court.
Wow. Americans do appear to be borderline evil! So what makes Sam Harris proclaim that we are morally superior?
He has a crystal clear argument that nails Chomsky to the wall. (I implore readers to go now to the source, rather than read on and witness my attempt to do justice to Sam’s tacit argument: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-limits-of-discourse)
Sam asks the reader to imagine that we have access to a miraculous “perfect weapon”. This weapon destroys only the target that it is assigned to destroy. No “casualties of war” need suffer its lethal power. This weapon kills only those whom it is intended to kill and destroys only those physical targets it is sent to destroy.
Now Harris poses this all important question: Would George Bush have deliberately sent such a weapon to kill innocent people? Would any president (or prime minister) deliberately send such a weapon to kill innocent men, women and children?
Of course not. That would be an unthinkable atrocity. Such a weapon would be used “benignly” (relatively speaking), with the express purpose of averting the loss of innocent lives. There is no question in my mind about that.
Alright, now Harris asks another question: “What do you imagine Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden would have done with a perfect weapon? What would Hitler have done? They would have used them rather differently.”
Bingo. Point made.
We are not perfect human beings. But in spite of our violent past and current violent engagements, we are NOT the same as terrorists, as Noam Chomsky believes.
Small consolation, perhaps, but a very important distinction indeed.
[Read Sam Harris’s article “The Limits of Discourse” http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-limits-of-discourse]