on 2 March 2000
Chomsky manages to continually surprise us with the horrors rich nations inflict on poorer nations. He graphically describes US interference in countries struggling for social and economic change. I read this while living in Nicaragua and came to understand why the US insists on maintaining its control on rich-in-resources countries. Chomsky uncoveres the paranoia of US governments and their cruel role in the destruction of weaker victims. It is a hard book to deal with, but is one of the easier ones to read. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in US foreign policy, its motives and reasoning. It covers many areas of the world where the US actively set out to undermine social democratic movements, governments or people.
Deterring Democracy is Professor Noam Chomsky's cutting analysis of the 1980s, the decade that filmmaker Oliver Stone (in the film Wall Street) sarcastically wrote as being defined as, "Greed is good."
Though Chomsky's book looks at many aspects of post-World War II United States foreign policy, such as how Germany and Japan were reshaped to suit the needs of exporters, it's primary focus is on Central America. Chomsky chooses this geographic region for logical reasons: the U.S. has, through the centuries, marketed - branded, even - itself as being a fearless promoter of peace and justice; this has, in many ways, been its raison d'etre. Even today, the U.S.'s Manifest Destiny can still be seen in action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Throughout the 1980s, the U.S. had a relatively free hand in Central America (beyond the reach of the Soviet Union); therefore, how the U.S. acted in it's own 'backyard' when given carte blanche should be most instructive. Following the argument, if the U.S. actively promotes democracy, then countries like El Salvador and Honduras et al should have flowered into democratic paradises.
This did not happen. Using independent research, eyewitness testimony and the official internal planning record, Chomsky conclusively demonstrates that these countries became death-squad democracies, under U.S. tutelage. Tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of people were routinely tortured and executed, as government policy. Intimidation and brutality were common-place. Millions were displaced. The mainstream mass media colluded in surpressing these unpleasant facts from the U.S. public, whilst promoting an image of President Ronald Reagan as a great and fearless promoter of democracy, unafraid to stand up to the imperialist communist aggressors.
Perhaps most revealing is the comparisson Chomsky draws betwixt how dissidents were treated in the Russian dominated Eastern European countries like Poland and how dissidents were treated in the U.S. dominated countries like Guatemala; and also, how the media portrayed the struggle for democracy against the Kremlin-backed thugs of Eastern Europe, compared to how the media portrayed the struggle against Washington-supported gangsters of Central America (the former were brave people to be celebrated and courted by the Whitehouse, the latter were assassinated or otherwise 'disappeared').
Written on the eve of the first Gulf War, Deterring Democracy also has a few chapters on the Middle East, Iraq and Israel/Palestine specifically.
More in-depth than Hegemony or Survival, easier to read than Year 501, Deterring Democracy covers pretty much all the bases you would expect, including a brief look at the media, adapted from his (and Edward Herman's) previous excellent book, Manufacturing Consent. Whilst this lacks the immediate contemporary relevance of Hegemony or Survival, Deterring Democracy might well stand the test of time of time better.
on 15 October 2001
Chomsky's analysis suggests that the aim of US government policy over the last century has been two-fold. Firstly, it has been to create a global/domestic framework most favourable to the materialisation of local elite and business interests irrespective of the stark ethical costs involved. This translates into active oppression of independent nationalism all over the world and shocking campaigns of state-sponsored international terror. Secondly, in order to do this successfully, the government must manufacture sufficient domestic consent by legitimising these awful actions in the name of humanism, protection from evil dictators and other such 'just causes'. Whilst the hypocrisy clearly stinks, in portraying the US as a clandestine fascist state Chomsky threatens to undermine his credibility. However, by backing up his findings with detailed documentation and analysis it is hard not to take him seriously and conclude that the corridors of power are indeed nowhere near as benign as the ideals that we carry. My only criticism of this book is the sometimes repetitive nature of some of the key arguments. Chomsky has a tendency of going over old ground, perhaps with the aim of focusing attention on his core themes, but with the end result of diluting their impact. Nonetheless, this is a trivial point and shouldn't detract from peering into what is a truly insightful and at times disturbing window into the reality of US foreign policy.
on 12 September 2010
It is almost twenty years since Noam Chomsky published Deterring Democracy. Its contemporary context is an important starting point in the understanding of its position since most of the material seeks to analyse and contextualise United States foreign policy in the post-War years to the early nineties. In 1991 the United States under George Bush was embroiled in the First Gulf War. I must stress the word "first", since this gives a clue to the book's eventual prescience.
Also in 1991, a dim and distant past when the new millennium was not yet a talking point, a bi-polar world, whose permanence and assumed conflict provided the framework for all political analysis, was already being transformed. The Soviet Union had already ceased to be, but the years of Yeltsin's IMF poverty lay ahead, as did those of Putin's new pragmatic if demagogic prosperity.
Regimes of all political stances came and went in Central and South America. But all of them were classified as good or evil by the Manichean filter of the age. Occasionally, a convenience of political pragmatism offered re-branding, as in the case of Jamaica, where Michael Manley, a leader once undermined as a leftist was reinstated with eternal backing after Edward Seaga's neo-liberal experiment predictably burnt out. Chomsky's record of Manley's second era being that of his violin phase is extremely succinct. He was put up by the left, but played by the right.
Descriptions of prevailing issues in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala figure large, of course. But Chomsky also visits the Dominican Republic, the Philippines and Europe to illustrate his central point. And it is a point that he makes and re-makes, a point that he still makes today. His analysis, simply put, is that an alliance of elite interests involving legislators, the powerful and those who own and control big business drives the US foreign policy agenda. The elite's sole aim is to preserve and further its own power, influence and prosperity. The fact that it does not always speak with a consistent voice is merely evidence that within the group there remains competition. Indeed, the group is neither particularly stable nor permanent. It is rather a loose alliance of interest, perhaps heavily reliant on birthright, but not determined by it. Notions of freedom, democracy, individual or collective rights and even development are peddled, attached like advertisers' catchlines to the same product every time it is recommended. To maintain its ascendancy, this ideology that fosters profit via power needs an enemy to provide a shield behind which it can hide its pursuit of self-advancement. The Soviet Union sufficed for most of the second half of the last century, but since then others have had to be identified to fulfil this essential role. It will not require much imagination to identify the current dark threats.
The population at large, meanwhile, has to be sold these ideas. When threat of nuclear war between super-powers loomed large, it was not difficult to fix the framework. How much easier is it now, when the current all-powerful, all-pervading enemy might just be within and among us? This low-intensity, back-burner threat continues to mask the activity that fuels an ever-increasing concentration of power and wealth. The people of the democratic, individualistic West are perfectly willing to stand by as recession bites, banks declare deposits worthless, pension funds dwindle, retirements recede and wages stagnate while those who perhaps cause these strictures luxuriate in ever-increasing, often self-granted rewards.
And, in a truly prescient passage, Chomsky describes this submissive, passive mentality perfectly. "For submissiveness to become a reliable trait," he writes, "it must be entrenched in every realm. The public are to be observers, not participants, consumers of ideology as well as products. Eduardo Galeano writes that `the majority must resign itself to the consumption of fantasy. Illusions of wealth are sold to the poor, illusions of freedom to the oppressed, dreams of victory to the defeated and power to the weak.' Nothing less will do." In this context, is it any surprise that the average contemporary consumer knows more of celebrity gossip than political option?
Deterring Democracy is packed - perhaps over-packed - with detailed evidence. Chomsky makes his point repeatedly and forcefully. I was once privileged to co-host the author as chair of a London conference. At first hand I can vouch for the sincerity and passion that underpins these views. I can also vouch for the solidity of the evidence upon which they are based.
Noam Chomsky is not anti-American. It is the exploiters of self-seeking power and self-deferential influence who deserve that label. Noam Chomsky is a man of the people, intensely humanistic and fundamentally democratic. He seems to maintain that if people turn their backs and refuse to acknowledge the obvious, they will have foregone a real opportunity to realise something more sustainable than the current illusion. And, along the way, they will probably have said goodbye to their principles, along with their bank deposits, pensions, retirement and freedom. At least they can talk about their woes on their latest-model mobiles, if, that is, they can still pay the bill. When you read Noam Chomsky's Deterring Democracy, give its arguments a chance to register. Then see if they ring true.
on 19 March 2003
As I near the end of this book, the US & UK war against Iraq is about to start (review written 19/3/03). I have watched the events unfold on TV, and have listened carefully to the words, arguments, justifications of US and UK politicians.
Now there are far too many facts, figures, dates quoted in this book for anyone to easily verify, so I planned to watch the current events on TV carefully and test his views in this book against them.
The book passed this test with flying colours. Mr Bush, and his "inner circle", has played just the cards the book would expect him to.
'Deterring Democracy' is well written and very insightful. Given that I believe what he writes is true, it's also depressing.
on 8 December 2002
In this book, Noam Chomsky meticulously details how the Cold War was essentially the creation of the USA to cloak its own global ambitions: - to become, in effect, the first truly world power.
America represented the USSR as the 'Evil Empire' as a justification of its own expansionist policies. America would ostensibly help free people everywhere to resist the tyranny of communism. The reality, ofcourse, was different. The Soviet Union was a second rate power, whose military capabilities were exaggerated out of all proportion by US politicians (and presidents) to boost arms production and to justify American expansion. In 1952, the Soviet Union offered to withdraw from Germany so long as Germany remained non-aligned. This was spurned by America who wanted to create the impression of a Soviet threat.
The Soviet threat was supposed to have tentacles world wide, supporting dissent and revolution in otherwise peaceful countries, such as Vietnam and Cuba. In fact, although the USSR did offer help, it was of a limited kind. Revolutions were usually nationalist in flavour, including Cuba and Vietnam.
America resisted these nationalist revolutions because they were a threat to US business interests. The USA wanted unlimited access to cheap primary markets in the Third World. In order to achieve this, foreign governments who put nationalist concerns first by diverting resources away from the rich and towards the alleviation of poverty - as Cuba had successfully done - meant that less resources were available to America. This is why both Cuba and Nicaragua fell victim to the USA: They showed a model of development that threatened US interests. This was also the reason of the Vietnam War, where even though America had little economic interest, Vietnam may have acted as a model for countries where America did have an economic interest. An independent Vietnam might have spread nationalism throughout South East Asia, leading Japan to accommodate a mainland Communist Bloc and thus become the industrial heartland of a New World order from which America might be excluded. It was because of such a possibility that the Pacific War had been fought. (An ironic factor is that America has secured free markets in South East Asia, which benefited Japan without Japan having to contribute to the Vietnam War, which cost America dearly.)
With the collapse of the USSR, the USA now has free licence to interfere in any part of the world without having to worry about the reaction of an opposing superpower - Bush's 'New World Order.' But the US still has to worry about domestic reaction. The spectra of communism was essential for justifying military intervention. You cannot tell your own people that you are going to invade a country simply to protect US investment. Therefore reasons have to be invented and consent manufactured.
If anyone wishes to know what is meant by the New World Order, the Gulf War illuminates things clearly. When a nation interferes with Western interests - the all-important oil supplies in this case - America steps in to restore the status quo and very often behind the fig-lead of the United Nations.
While the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq was undoubtedly wrong, it surely was no more wrong than Iraq's attempted invasion of Iran, or Israel's invasion of the Lebanon (not to mention the conquered occupied territories gained in 1967) or America's invasion of Panama, or its support of the Contras and the illegal embargo of Nicaragua, all roundly condemned by the UN, but made invalid by America's UN vote.
Saddam Hussein was demonised as a new Hitler, ready to take over the whole of the Middle East by conquest. The facts belie this. He could not even win against Iran after a ten year effort, an effort that almost bankrupted Iraq. (When Kuwait undercut Iraqi oil prices, it severely jeopardised Iraq's attempt to recover from that war, and was responsible for Iraq's invasion.)
If Bush's (both Senior and Junior) New World Order means anything, it means America's right to flex its muscles internationally without having to worry about the Soviet Union, now a spent force. It means America can now impose its will on what it deems recalcitrant. Diplomacy now means the delivery of ultimatums - in this case the ultimatum of Iraq to withdrew from Kuwait. The PLO's suggestion that talks between Iraq and Kuwait on borders and oil policy (the cause of the war, after all) and the right of the Kuwaiti people to choose their own government was dismissed out of hand by Bush and barely reported by the (ever complacent and compliant) media.
America prefers, on the whole, democracy - except where democracy may overthrow the business elite with a radical left government that may threaten American business interest.
After World War II, America was committed to creating a liberal-capitalist order that would allow uninterrupted economic penetration (free trade) by which it was assumed America would benefit. To achieve this, America was prepared to challenge communism - actually nationalism by another name-head on. Examples of this are the creation of a West German state; wars against Vietnam, Korea, Cuba, and Nicaragua; supporting death-squad dictatorships in Latin America, and multi-million dollar CIA covert operations around the world.
Covert operations by US administrations are a common tool and are used regularly. They are kept secret from the people but not the media or the Congress, who already know of their existence. A good example is the Reagan Administration's attempt to supply the Contras despite having signed the Central American Peace Accord that barred the signatories from doing just that. Soon afterwards the Bush administration and congressional liberals committed themselves to openly aiding the Contras, and which caused Daniel Ortega to say that it "reaffirms (USA) policy that the strong may do whatever they wish." Reagan's idea was to keep the pressure on Nicaragua, to target health centres and schools, and then to make sure that resources needed to maintain these welfare programmes would be diverted to defence spending and thereby undermining Sandanista support.
Noam Chomsky said that "Democratic forms can be tolerated, even admired, if only for propaganda purposes. But this stance can be adopted only when the distribution of effective power ensures that meaningful participation of the 'popular classes' has been barred. When they organise and threaten the control of the political system by the business-land-owning elite and the military, strong measures must by taken, with tactical variations depending on the ranking of the target population on the scale of importance. At the lowest level, in the Third World, virtually no holds are barred."
A good example of this is to see how differently Nicaragua and Guatemala are treated. In Nicaragua, the Sandanistas diverted resources from the landowners and towards the poor. America responded by covert terrorism and an economic blockade. But to the brutality in Guatemala (death squads, disappearances, etc.), America was mute.
Chomsky presents a devastating analysis of America's foreign policy. He is sure to upset and anger a lot of people, but his argument that America is an imperial power is a cogent one.
on 5 June 2001
Noam Chomsky as always been an indefatigable fighter for the truth. In his many books, his aim has been to expose the reality of America's foreign policy. Far from defending democracy from communisim, America, since the 19th Century (The Monroe Doctrine), has been intent on creating compliant states in order to give America both cheap resourses and easy access to a ready market. This book is Chomsky's magnus opus : he details how America has overturned one government in South and Central America after another, and how the Cold War was an attempt by America, largly successful, to extend it's hegemony over the world - Bush's New World Order! Most of Chomsky's books are written in a brow beating style; but this is clearly argued and well written, and remains his most cogent to date. An essential book for those who were never taken in by America's claim to be the champions of democracy.
Chomsky seems to live in a different America; not the America we read regularly about in the mass media but an imperialist, superpower America. The Cold War is re-interpreted, peace is given a new financial slant and the agenda of the doves is examined.
He marshals his facts carefully (as, perhaps, only Chomsky can) to reveal a new portrait of America, one less likeable as new facts emerge. As a political activist, his voice can no more be ignored than his previous persona of linguistic genius in which he proved that imitation is not just how we learn language - there is also the transformational grammar and deep structure. In this book, he explores another deep structure, the deep structure of American democracy.
on 13 April 2014
DETERRING DEMOCRACY - NOAM CHOMSKY
Illuminating – informative – punchy – shocking – disgusting – takes you into political arguments you didn’t know existed – reaches subjects other writers wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.
The book explores the activities of the American government to protect the class privileges of the rich. What is surprising is that very little of the book actually deals with America. Most of the book is devoted to Central and South America.
On every page the author sneers at the anti-moral attitude of the ruling-classes in all counties of the world. On every page he sneers at the way the business-classes control the media to keep the public in ignorance. On every page he sneers at the intellectual elite who sit back and approve or say nothing at government atrocities in the world. When you consider the passion expended on the plight of the unwashed, uneducated masses, this book is written by an intellectual for intellectuals, which the author has spent the whole book sneering at. If this book had been written with the general public in mind, it would be written in ‘plain English’... it’s not... it’s written in intellectual-ese. Chomsky is a linguist professor, so he knows better than most, the appropriate language to use to communicate with a particular group of people.
Although the book is quite old now, it is still relevant, since it deals with ‘what politicians say and what they actually do’. There is a large section of the world population who detest America. This book will give you the real reasons why... not the waffle you get in the media. ‘Truth Justice and the American Way’ is a myth... read this and see why.
Great book... great message... for those who have the motivation to plough through it.
on 25 February 2011
I'm purely writing this review to advise other buyers that this book is not available in hardback as Amazon suggests.
I ordered 1 copy, arrived in paperback copy (which I returned); the replacement arrived again in paperback at which point I was informed that in fact they do not have this item in stock in hardback.
Of course, the book itself is excellent, but if like me you prefer to buy your "reference" books in hardback then you should be aware that this is not possible from Amazon.