'Orgy of hypocrisy' on war and peace

Issue 

NOAM CHOMSKY's January 19 press conference in Sydney covered a range of topics. JOHN TOGNOLINI, who covered the conference for Green Left Weekly and Radio Skid Row, here provides excerpts from Chomsky's answers to a number of questions. Chomsky begins with a reply to Tognolini's query about the approaching 50th anniversary celebrations of the allied victory in the Pacific war.

We are going to be seeing an orgy of hypocrisy this year as the whole history of the Pacific War is completely rewritten and reshaped to fit later needs. It's fair to predict you're not going to read much this year about what United States-Japanese relations actually were up until Pearl Harbour.

I'd be interested to see how much is publicised about US support for Japanese aggression all the way through. The business community supported it. Joseph Grew, the ambassador to Japan, an influential diplomat, was supporting Japanese aggressions — rather the way many people in Australia today are referring to the Indonesian aggression in East Timor: you know, it may not be very pretty, but it's good for business and ultimately the best thing.

This went on almost up to Pearl Harbour. The great atrocity at Pearl Harbour — "the day that will live in infamy" — was certainly a crime, in fact a war crime. But remember what it was.

It was an attack by the Japanese on two military bases in colonies the US had recently stolen from their inhabitants — in the case of the Philippines in extraordinarily brutal fashion, killing hundreds of thousands people; in the case of Hawaii just by deceit and power play.

Attacks on military bases in colonies that have been stolen from their inhabitants doubtless are crimes, but in the annals of crime in this century, they don't rank very high.

And the US was apparently willing to make a deal with Japan if Japan would allow the US the same kind of access in China that it was gaining. That's what it looks like from the diplomatic records.

Nor will you hear a lot about the decision of the British in 1932 to close off the empire, which included Australia at that time, to Japanese exports for the simple reason that Britain could no longer compete with the Japanese. So free market ideology was naturally thrown out the window: it's only OK when you're going to win. If you're going to lose, you call the game off. That was one of the factors that led to the war.

Japan's crimes, which were vicious, didn't arouse much opposition in the West. The same was true in Europe. Both the State Department and the British Foreign Office — we now have plenty of declassified records — were rather ambivalent about Hitler, in fact rather supportive of him. Up until 1937, the US State Department, European division, described Hitler as a moderate whom we have to support. He stands between extremists of left and right, and unless we support Hitler, the masses might rise and try to steal what's not theirs — the same sort of thing you hear in support of every monster and killer and murderer in subsequent years.

The British were even worse. Lord Halifax went to Germany around 1937-1938. He explained to Hitler, We understand your moderate position; the British were coming around to approval of it and so forth. Even after the Battle of Britain, even after the British had been attacked and bombed by the Germans, in internal Foreign Office records the main critique of the Stalin-Hitler Pact was that it probably gives too much power to the Russians.

With regard to Australia and East Timor, I hope that the Australians will be honest enough to describe what happened. Australia attacked Timor. It might have escaped the war if they hadn't. Macau, for example, was not [attacked by the Japanese]. Portugal was a fascist country and sort of a quasi-ally of the Japanese. They might have left Timor alone, as they left Macau alone.

But Australia attacked 10 days or so after Pearl Harbour, and that brought Timor into the war. Japan then invaded and there were a couple of hundred Australian commandos who fought a courageous battle and probably kept Japan from a possible attack on Australia. Michelle Turner's oral history on this came out recently, about Australians who were fighting there, and some of them point out frankly that if it hadn't been for the assistance of the Timorese, they would have been killed. Which means that Australia may have well been protected from invasion by the blood of Timorese.

The official Australian estimate is around 40,000 killed. Jim Dunn has looked into this intensively and estimates about 60,000 Timorese killed.

Most of them were killed after the Australians withdrew in 1943. At that point the Japanese really went wild and attacked what they called collaborators with the Australians, certainly tens of thousands of Timorese. You can decide how much that means to Australians. I would think it would mean something, and paying back this debt by supporting the Indonesian invasion is not one of the prettiest parts of modern history.

What would you like Australia to do about East Timor?

Start with narrow things. The narrowest thing it ought to do is rescind this grotesque decision to sell rifles to Indonesia on the grounds that Australia now has a new niche market in Indonesia. Protests in the US led Congress to restrict small arms sales. So Australia leapt in with all sorts of fraudulent excuses of the usual type but mainly because you make money. That's the main reason, and that's pretty ugly.

The next thing I think Australia ought to do is withdraw from the Timor Gap Treaty, now, independently of what the World Court may decide. The Timor Gap Treaty is completely offensive to decent human beings. It's as if Libya had made a deal with Iraq to rob Kuwaiti oil after the Iraqi invasion. Imagine what the world reaction would have been to that.

Part of the original Australian reason for supporting the invasion, which was explained by ambassador Woolcott in a later leaked secret cable, was that you could probably make a better deal robbing Timorese of their oil with Indonesia than with Portugal or an independent East Timor. That kind of reason for supporting aggression and slaughter and massacres is not very impressive.

Even the wording of the treaty is extremely offensive. It's as if Australia went out of its way to be as ugly as it could possibly be about it. There's nothing in the treaty that even offers a cent for the benefit of the East Timorese.

It seems to me Australia has taken a position towards Indonesia which should be offensive to Australians. It is sort of grovelling. I don't think there's any reason for Australia to do that.

What are your views on Bougainville?

Australia I think was the last actual colonial power. As far as I recall, Papua New Guinea was the last colony to be given independence, and it's a nominal independence that holds between the former imperial power and its colony.

In Bougainville there's another major atrocity going on in which Australia is playing a role now. It is definitely a role in helping the PNG government to suppress an independence movement of people who simply doesn't want their resources robbed.

This is, incidentally, going on all over the region. Australia was going to lose at the World Court on the Nauru case, lose to a separate settlement. Australia had led the way; New Zealand and Britain were simply participants to robbing the resources of this island, phosphates in this case.

The Bougainville case is similar. It's resource robbery. The population wants independence and has a right to it.

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