Castro, Kushner, the Khmer Rouge: The Nation from the ’60s to 9/11

Professor Noam Chomsky of Linguistics and Philosophy. photo: Donna Coveney/MIT
Noam Chomsky

We’ve been taking a look at the history of The Nation during the Cold War, when it was, as the phrase went, “anti-anti-Communist.” Practically speaking, to be sure, there was little if any difference between The Nation‘s “anti-anti-Communism” and robust advocacy for (or, at the very least, defense of) Communism. Routinely, The Nation‘s editors and contributors wrote about the U.S. and USSR as if their people had, quite simply, chosen different systems, just as you might order a Coke and your best friend might order a Pepsi. And while The Nation tended to dance around the question of whether the Soviet system was inherently oppressive, it had no qualms about stridently denouncing the supposedly intrinsic evils of American capitalism – and supporting America’s enemies, the more tyrannical, it sometimes seemed, the better. In the 1970s, for example, it ran Noam Chomsky‘s defense of the Khmer Rouge from charges of genocide and supported the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Jesse Jackson and Fidel Castro
Jesse Jackson with Fidel Castro

Among the other postwar-era low notes reprinted in The Nation ‘s special centennial issue: in a 1988 editorial, the Nation actually endorsed world-class shakedown artist and Castro crony Jesse Jackson for president of the United States – this, in the midst of Jackson’s public enthusiasm for Jew-baiting, gay-bashing Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (whom Malcolm X’s own relatives publicly accused of complicity in his assassination) and in the wake of Jackson’s own disgusting reference to New York City as “Hymietown.”

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Tony Kushner

Then there’s gay rights. The Nation presents itself today as having always been at the forefront of the struggle for gay equality; but for years, in fact, its contributors were consistently, fiercely opposed to same-sex marriage, gays in the military, and other forms of what they considered gay “assimilation” into bourgeois institutions. In their view, the proper socialist objective was not to achieve equal rights for gay people in mainstream capitalist society, but to marshal marginalized gay people as far-left storm troopers in the battle to overthrow mainstream capitalist society. The anniversary issue reprints part of a typically jejune 1994 article by Tony Kushner that sneeringly rejects gay marriage and calls for gay people to be true to utopian socialist ideals of “liberation. (It is instructive, by the way, to compare the complete original article – which can be found here – to the expurgated version served up in the anniversary issue.) The bottom line about The Nation and gay rights is that Kushner and other gay stalwarts at the magazine fought tooth and nail against the social changes that have enabled gay Americans to live and thrive openly with far less difficulty than they could a generation ago; yet now the magazine happily, and deceitfully, takes a big chunk of the credit for those very changes.

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Mikhail Gorbachev

When the Iron Curtain fell, millions of Eastern Europeans wept with joy and rushed to embrace capitalism and democracy. But the folks at The Nation – like other stateside comrades of the Kremlin – offered no mea culpas and exhibited no shame. Quietly, they more or less dropped their longtime enthusiasm for the Kremlin down the memory hole. But they didn’t revise their poisonously anti-American attitudes, revisit their fierce hostility to the NATO policy of containment, or rethink their resounding contempt for the unapologetic pro-freedom rhetoric of Reagan and Thatcher, which they had repeatedly denounced as vulgar and dangerous. No, they just kept preaching their same old ideology, as if it had not been thoroughly discredited. They even allowed Mikhail Gorbachev, in a 2009 interview with Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and hubby Stephen F. Cohen, to cast himself as the hero of the end of the Cold War – and to depict the whole conflict, in the same old way, as a clash between two morally equivalent regimes. Entirely removed from the picture was the monstrous injustice and intrinsic evil of the Communist system, and the fact that that system ultimately came crashing down precisely because of its injustice and evil.

And what about 9/11 and its aftermath? We’ll move on to that disgraceful chapter of The Nation‘s history next time.

Chomsky & co.

We’ve seen how some of Vladimir Putin’s Western apologists belong to the “yes, but” brigade. They’re quick to acknowledge that he’s a pretty vile character, and yet they feel moved to defend the guy – or even, as in Peter Hitchens‘s case, claim to like him.

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Noam Chomsky

There’s no “yes, but,” however, for Noam Chomsky, the World’s Leading Intellectual©. He’s all in for Putin, and then some. Writing in May 2014 about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Chomsky was quick to “contextualize” it, in his own unique way, by bringing in the “era’s most extreme international crime, the United States-United Kingdom invasion of Iraq.” For Chomsky, the latter “crime” more than excuses the former. Yes, the US and UK took down one of the most murderous tyrants of all time, while Putin invaded a country that had just undergone a democratic revolution, but such distinctions have never mattered to Chomsky: the suffering of people here and there around the globe doesn’t interest him unless he can find a way to pin that suffering on America.

Chomsky mocked the idea that Russia’s move on Ukraine should be viewed as a crisis. After all, as so many of his fellow Putin apologists have pointed out, Ukraine is in Russia’s “neighborhood.” He also helpfully cited polls supposedly indicating that people all over the planet overwhelmingly consider the U.S., not Russia, a “pariah state” and “the greatest threat to world peace.” So there.

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Paul Craig Roberts

Chomsky, of course, is in a category all his own. But when it comes to standing up for Putin, the guy who puts even him in the shade is almost certainly Paul Craig Roberts. An economist who once worked as an editor at the Wall Street Journal and as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan, Roberts has since gone off the deep end, contributing regularly to Counterpunch – the journal of the loony, Jew-hating far left – and routinely siding with Putin against the U.S. Indeed, “Putin apologist” is far too feeble a term for Roberts; he’s a hard-core propagandist, pure and simple, serving up breathtaking, bald-faced claims that are almost always the very antithesis of the truth.

Here’s just a sampling. In Roberts’s lexicon, the people running the Ukraine are “Washington’s stooge government in Kiev”; the Eastern European countries who’ve joined NATO to protect themselves from being re-incorporated into the Kremlin’s empire are “NATO’s vassals.” The U.S., charged Roberts in July 2014, “is at work through its Kiev proxy murdering citizens in eastern and southern parts of present-day Ukraine that once were part of Russia.”

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Vladimir Putin

Meanwhile Putin’s the good guy, standing up alone to “Washington’s crimes against humanity” and striving in vain “to find a peaceful settlement” that would help “the Ukrainians who are being attacked” on orders from Washington. Putin’s only fault, in Roberts’s eyes? His failure “to realize that his reasonableness is not reciprocated by Washington.” Summing up: “Putin has done what he can to avoid conflict. Now he needs to do the right thing, as he did in Georgia and Crimea.”

If Roberts isn’t on the Kremlin payroll, he should be; he’s doing a PR job for Putin that should be the envy of any Hollywood publicity mill.