Authors: Noam Chomsky
Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2011 by Noam Chomsky
“Was There an Alternative?” © 2011 by Noam Chomsky
“Reflections on 9-11” © 2002 by Noam Chomsky. First published by
in Sweden, August 2002, and in
11 September—ett år efteråt
One Year After
) (Stockholm: Aftonbladet, 2002).
The Open Media Series is edited by Greg Ruggiero and archived by the Tamiment Collection at New York University.
Front cover photo by Greg Ruggiero: September 11, 2001, view from Canal Street and Hudson.
White House photograph by Pete Souza: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, monitor the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2001. Seated, from left, are: Brigadier General Marshall B. “Brad” Webb, Assistant Commanding General, Joint Special Operations Command; Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Standing, from left, are: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Tony Binken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; Audrey Tomason Director for Counterterrorism; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, by any means, including mechanical, electric, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
9-11 : updated and expanded after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, with a new introduction, Was there an alternative? / Noam Chomsky
p. cm. – (An open media book)
1. September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001. 2. Terrorism–Prevention. I. Title. II.
I would like to thank David Peterson and Shifra Stern for invaluable assistance with current media research particularly
2. Is the War on Terrorism Winnable?
6. Civilizations East and West
Department of State Report on Foreign Terrorist Organizations (October 5, 2001)
Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism 2009 (August 5, 2010)
Cover of first edition of 9-11.
he book you are holding was conceived, produced, and published as an act of protest. From the weeks immediately following the attacks in Washington and New York in 2001, to those immediately following the U.S. assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, Noam Chomsky has highlighted the lessons of history and advocated adhering to the basic tenets of human rights as the best ways to break step from the drum beats for war. In opposing violence as a political solution, Chomsky’s analysis of policy and media coverage in the United States poses difficult questions. Should the U.S. obey the International Court? Should the U.S. obey UN resolutions? Should the U.S. abide by the same principles and rules to which it holds other countries? What have the U.S. wars since 9/11 accomplished? The facts are harsh: Thousands of U.S. soldiers have been killed on foreign soil. Untold numbers of people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq have been killed, injured, displaced, or detained. What are the consequences? Is the world a better place? Was there an alternative?
Was there an alternative?
This is now one of the great moral and political questions of our time, and it is the title
of Chomsky’s new essay written to introduce this third edition
. Written in June 2011, Chomsky’s text examines the impact and consequences of U.S. foreign policy up to the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and reflects on what may have resulted if the crimes against humanity committed on 9/11 had been “approached as a crime, with an international operation to apprehend the likely suspects.”
In exploring possible answers, Chomsky reviews another notorious September 11 and major historical events, many of which are simply overlooked and forgotten in the United States. In discussing the operation against bin Laden, he also touches on the “imperial mentality” and the decision to name the mission “Operation Geronimo.” “The casual choice of the name,” writes Chomsky, “is reminiscent of the ease with which we name our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Blackhawk, Tomahawk.… We might react differently if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes ‘Jew’ and ‘Gypsy.’ ”
For many who read Chomsky for the first time, his analysis can be disorienting because he focuses precisely on those facts that have been systemically under-reported or completely ignored by mainstream media. Consequences of U.S. actions in Nicaragua, for example, are not widely known or remembered in the United States. As Chomsky said in an e-mail while we were working on the book, “These facts have been completely removed from history. One has to practically scream them from the rooftops.”
Ten years after its original publication, the overlooked facts and difficult questions Chomsky poses in
to be heard over the rooftops of official history. Despite wars, despite indefinite detentions, despite drones and increasing militarization, people in this country and around the world have shown their resistance not just in the streets, but also by what we read.
A “Surprise Best Seller”—to quote the title of an article about it in the
New York Times
has been published in more than two dozen countries and has appeared on multiple bestseller lists, including the
Los Angeles Time
, and the
New York Times
. An article about it in
The New Yorker
was practically the only counter-narrative out there at a time when questions tended to be drowned out by a chorus, led by the entire United States Congress, of ‘God Bless America.’ It was one of the few places where the other side of the case could be found.”
Published years before Facebook and Twitter were invented, people found out about the book largely through community bookstores, word of mouth, newspapers, public radio, and even CNN, where Chomsky debated the book as a guest on
with Paula Zahn.
Bookstores, particularly independents like St. Mark’s Bookshop and City Lights, became a driving force of distribution and sales. “Seeking to explain the book’s success,” wrote Michael Massing in the
New York Times
, “booksellers cite its succinct title, striking cover (a stark black-and-white picture of the twin towers before the attacks), low price … and accessible question-and-answer format. ‘People are coming in every day, asking, “What can I read that can give me some understanding of what’s happening?” ’
said Virginia Harabin, the floor manager at the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington. ‘This is the one I recommend.’ ”
“The primary challenge facing the people of the world is, literally, survival,” writes Chomsky.
If we indeed survive our government’s propensity for confrontation and violence over diplomacy, it may be because we break away from the news feed long enough to heed dissident voices like Chomsky’s, published in pamphlets, posted online, spoken at protests, and shouted from the rooftops.
July 12, 2011
Union County, New Jersey
Michael Massing, “Surprise Best Seller Blames U.S.,”
New York Times,
May 2, 2002, B11.
Louis Menand, “Faith, Hope, and Clarity: September 11th and the American Soul,”
The New Yorker
, September 16, 2002.
with Paula Zahn, live debate with Noam Chomsky, May 30, 2002, transcript posted here:
New York Times,
Noam Chomsky, “Delaying Doomsday: This Century’s Challenges,” April 24, 2008, distributed by the New York Times Syndicate and forthcoming in Noam Chomsky,
Making the Future: The Unipolar Imperial Moment
, City Lights Books/Open Media Series.
Was There an Alternative?
s I write (mid-June 2011), we are approaching the tenth anniversary of the horrendous atrocities of September 11, 2001, which, it is commonly held, changed the world. A few weeks ago, on May 1, the presumed mastermind of the crime, Osama bin Laden, was assassinated in Pakistan by a team of elite U.S. commandos, Navy SEALs, after he was captured, unarmed and undefended, in Operation Geronimo.
Today is a rather ordinary day. The press reports terrorist attacks that killed dozens of civilians in Afghanistan, thirty-four more in Pakistan, and eleven in Iraq, where, as was just reported, the regular toll of about ten killed a day increased by 28 percent in May over April. The United Nations reported that May was the worst month for civilian casualties in Afghanistan since records began to be kept four years ago.
A few months earlier, in December, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called a rare news conference “to express deep concern that Afghanistan security had deteriorated to its worst point since the overthrow of the Taliban nine years ago and was preventing aid groups
from reaching victims of conflict.” The head of the Afghanistan office, Reto Stocker, said that the ICRC is “extremely concerned of yet another year of fighting with dramatic consequences for an ever growing number of people in by now almost the entire country.” He added that by every measure that the ICRC tracks, the situation has worsened throughout the country. The number of internally displaced people rose by 25 percent last year. Stocker added that “the Red Cross might be undercounting because it could no longer travel to many parts of the country.”
This grim analysis was confirmed shortly after by the outgoing UN deputy special representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan, Robert Watkins. He reported that the “security situation in Afghanistan has worsened to its lowest point since the toppling of the Taliban a decade ago and attacks on aid workers are at unprecedented levels.” Before the surge in NATO (that is, U.S.) forces last year, he said, the insurgency was centered in the south and south-east of the country, but since the surge “we have seen the insurgency move to parts of the country where we’ve never seen [it] before,” UN relief agencies now have regular access to just 30 percent of the country, with mixed access for another 30 percent and hardly any for the remaining 40 percent.
Meanwhile the vicious Sunni-Shi’ite conflict that was ignited by the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq has since spread to the region more generally, with dire consequences and possibly worse to come.