Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Chomsky reminiscing

Before WWII, if you were an American artist or writer you resided in Paris; you were a mathematician or doing graduate studies in physics you visited Germany; you were interested in philosophy your next stop is England.  That is what Noam Chomsky wrote in his small but packed book “Reflection on the university”.

The US was sort of lost hole, of what corresponded to the Midwest for the Eastern US citizens.  During the WWII, many European scientists and intellectuals fled Germany, Italy, and France to settle in the US.  The US society and intellectuals resented these eminently educated people and made their best not to extending the appropriate university posts to them.

Many highly qualified European intellectuals and scientists had to work as assistant or translator… There was an impression that Europeans had demonstrated decadence and volatility in their behavior due to successive murderous wars and political intransigence.  The US wanted to integrate these new comers in their business mentality, the American way of leading respectable life.  

For 20 years after WWII, it never crossed the mind of US Administrations and strategic planners to consult with European States:  It was not proper to ask counsel to unstable, emotive, and not serious partners.   The decisions were taken and later shared:  If the European agreed it was fine.  The US intended all along to going solo anyway.

At the end of WWII, the US produced 50% of the world wealth and its navy and armies were spread on every sea and ocean and on almost every land  on the world map. During the Cuba missile crisis in 1962, the Kennedy Administration refused to consult with the European governments: This was the main cause for thewrath of France President Charles De Gaulle who decided to take the drastic decision to imposing France independence from US plans and programs.

Nothing changed in the US attitudes even in the 90’s:  Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright during Bill Clinton, told the UN assembly that the US had huge interests in Iraq and will act unilaterally if the US policies do not please the UN members.  

When the International Court, in 1986, condemned the US for “illegal usage of force” against the people in Nicaragua the general attitude was of totally despising the court ruling:  Crimes against human rights of the UN Charters could not be applicable to the US, the sole superpower State.

Chomsky reminisces that at the end of the 40’s, US universities refused to teach the “history” of any discipline.  Whatever was worth learning started in the US:  It never crossed their mind that the European scientists and intellectuals have resolved most of the problems and established many disciplines centuries ago.  

Many US graduate students were shocked that their thesis were already analyzed and resolved centuries ago.  If you wanted to read European works you had to visit Harvard’s Widener library.

Aside from US arrogance of considering anything not originating in the US as a waste of time and effort to study, the 40’s witnessed huge progress in technological advances such as in electronics, mass computing, theory of communication, integration of natural sciences in general laws (sort of unifying physics, chemistry, and biology).

It was at that period that Skinner behaviorist theory spread in the social disciplines:  All studies had to be operational and realistic.  For most of the 50’s and early 60’s, the US people had no idea what was happening in South Vietnam, although dailies didn’t mention the news on the first pages.  As long as napalm destroyed one hospital, it is was not a big deal ethically.

For example, the slaughter that the British colonialists in Kenya (1952-59) submitted the Kenyans during the “Mau Mau” uprising was not even known: These activities drew blank stares from the US citizens; at best, Kenya is a scarcely populated region, not as dense as Hungary.  

When hundreds of atrocities committed by the US army in Vietnam made the news every day, it started to dawn on the US people that what was taking place was an immoral invasion and crimes against humanity.

For example, the incursions of the Soviet Union of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968 were considered invasions, the wars of the US in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama…were legitimate preemptive wars, as would the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the middle of 1960, MIT (Mass. Institute of technology), although it was almost entirely funded by the Pentagon for various basic research, this university was far more active in its opposition to the war in Vietnam and less hostile to freedom of expressions by dissidents than Harvard.  Most of the efforts against the war in the region were lead from MIT.  MIT had two main military laboratories attached to the Pentagon.  The impression that the teaching staff in Harvard was liberal did not match reality.

Salvador Luria, a refugee from fascist Italy,  was heavily implicated in leftist movement and was at the origin of many activities.  Public gatherings on critical issues of the moment were mostly held in MIT campus.  For example, the group RESIST, instituted in 1967 in MIT , financed  activist movements; most the members of its administrative counsel were MIT graduates and very few from Harvard.

MIT was a university dedicated to natural sciences and engineering, and thus, ideological constraints were less significant than in Harvard.  I wouldn’t have survived the climate of expression constraints in Harvard.  I have never been harassed in MIT, even though I was very implicated in war resistance and was briefly put in prison.

When I arrived to MIT in 1955, the university was profoundly militaristic.  The building I worked in was an electronic laboratory for research that was founded by the joint collaboration of navy, air and land armies.  Employees and teachers were to submit to systematic authorization procedures, but i was the first one to decline and refused:  Nobody really cared of being submitted to the procedure.  The only drawback was that I lost a couple of benefits such as free military transportation…

Before 1968, students in MIT were pretty much passive.  A group of a few students formed the collective of Rosa Luxemburg in 1966 and I was one of the tutor for the group.  I gave this group lectures in my free time.  Mike Albert and Steve Shalom were among these students.  Albert initiated the South End press and then Z Magazine.

The Rosa group decided in 1968 to mount a refuge for a deserter to the war until the FBI lands.  The group held a press conference and thousands of students converged.  The university stopped to function.  A flow of successive activities were launched every hour and every day for weeks.  A large meeting was held on March 4, 1969 that closed the university.

McGeorge Bundy of Harvard  and counsellor to the national security was hired to disseminate a “peace mission” stating:  “We are hearing you.  Let us reconcile and let bygone be bygone.”  As he arrived to MIT, a surprise was waiting for him and the campaign was cancelled by the government.




June 2023

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