June 15, 2008

JFK, Noam Chomsky, and the Straw-man debate about Vietnam Withdrawl

Noam Chomsky has often been criticized for some of his positions regarding the JFK assassination and 9/11. I came across this interesting critique by Michael Morrissey in an open letter addressed to Chomsky and others.

"It might interest you to know that I tried, in the course of a long and intensive correspondence with Chomsky (before Rethinking Camelot came out), to get him to state his position [about US policy towards Vietnam after the JFK assassination] as follows: JFK's withdrawal plan was reversed, after the assassination, because the assessment of the military situation was reversed (also after the assassination). This is in fact his position, but you will see that in his book, as in his letters to me, he refuses to put it this way because he is so determined to make the truly specious argument that "there was no withdrawal policy." The reason is obvious to me, and I told him so: Once you admit that there was a radical policy change immediately after the assassination (exactly when doesn't matter), you must deal with the question of the possible relation between the two events... That means you are automatically involved in "conspiracy theory," which is anathema to Chomsky (and others like Alexander Cockburn and the late I.F. Stone) for I suppose ideological or psychological reasons. The other alternative is to admit the withdrawal policy reversal but deny any relation to the assassination, as Arthur Schlesinger does. This is naive and irrational, as Schlesinger's hysterical condemnation of the Stone film amply demonstrates. Chomsky does not want to appear naive and irrational, so he has manufactured a tortuous and false argument that there was never a withdrawal policy ("without victory") in the first place.
Chomsky's argument is false because Newman's thesis (that JFK was secretly
planning to withdraw regardless of the military situation) is 1) speculative, as
Chomsky correctly says, and 2) unnecessary to establish the fact that
the policy was reversed after the assassination
, as Chomsky fails to
realize. This is why I say it is a false debate–because it is about 1), not 2). The irony is that Chomsky's clear presentation of the facts regarding 2), as opposed to Newman's, supports a conspiracy view of the assassination. It is enough to say that two days after the assassination the CIA and other intelligence agencies began to reverse their assessment of the military situation–retrospectively, dating the deterioration from July–and hence to reverse the withdrawal policy. Chomsky says this (without using the term "withdrawal policy," which he refuses to use the way everyone else uses it)–not Newman. We do not need any secret intentions of JFK to pose the question of the relation between the assassination and Vietnam policy. All we need to do is establish what actually happened, according to the documentary record. What happened is that JFK was killed, and two days later the CIA et al. suddenly realized they had been losing the war for the past five months, and the appropriate policy change was made. This may have been pure coincidence (as Chomsky and Schlesinger both assume, Chomsky tacitly and Schlesinger explicitly), but once the facts are stated clearly, they reek of conspiracy."
In a letter to Chomsky, Morrissey makes the point that:
The false debate is about what was going on in Kennedy's head before it exploded on that fateful day in Dallas. It is about what he might or might not have secretly intended to do in Vietnam, and what he might or might not have done if he had lived. There is no answer to these questions, and there never will be, no matter how many additional documents are declassified or memoirs are written... Once you admit that there was a radical policy change in the months following the assassination, whether that change was a reaction to a (presumed) change in conditions or not, you must ask if the change was related to the assassination, unless you are a fool. Then, like it or not, you are into conspiracy theory… ["Chomsky on JFK and Vietnam"]

This is the real debate, the one I was trying in vain to engage Chomsky in. Forget policy. There was a change. A radical change. A reversal of something, whether you want to call it policy, tactics, or assessment. What was the connection, if any, between that change, that immediate and radical change, and the assassination?

This is the question which, I submit, Chomsky and everyone else have been avoiding for the past 15 years.
In Noam Chomsky's words, "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."