Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky

Jennifer Bendery

The world did not suddenly become extraordinarily dangerous on September 11, 2001. What has changed since then is the reinterpretation of basic terms now being used to justify US policies.

Hegemony or Survival

Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Length: 278
Subtitle: America's Quest for Global Dominance
Price: $22
Author: Noam Chomsky
US publication date: 2003-11

A tidal wave of books critical of the Bush Administration has submerged those of us who like to think of ourselves as informed citizens, leaving us choking and splashing around in the foam and seaweed trying to keep track of who wrote what and how (or if) each is different from the last. At the center of the latest media blitzkrieg is Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, which comes on the heels of Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies, Joseph Wilson's The Politics of Truth, John Dean's Worse than Watergate, Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country?, Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty and Paul Krugman's The Great Unraveling, to name a few.

With these hot political commentaries flying off the book presses faster than you can say "nucular," one might ask, what makes Noam Chomsky's latest book stand out from all the others? Easy. Hegemony is the forest; the others are trees.

Known as the father of modern linguistics and the world's foremost intellectual activist, Chomsky centers his newest book on picking apart -- in painstaking detail -- the last 50 years of U.S. foreign policy to reveal the "imperial grand strategy" of the United States: increased global dominance, even at the expense of human survival. The goal of this strategy is to prevent any challenge to the "power, position, and prestige of the United States," according to the position indoctrinated into US policy in 1963. The strategy was echoed nearly 40 years later in the official rhetoric of the US National Security Strategy laid out in September 2002: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."

I remember a couple of years ago when Time magazine slapped that desperate question in huge letters across its cover: "Why do they hate us?" The magazine was, of course, referring to a growing distaste for Americans within the Islamic world. But even though mainstream media poses this question time and time again to the average, befuddled American, Chomsky suggests the question is wrongly put. The Islamic world does not hate Americans, but rather, the policies of the US government; two vastly different things. Unlike easier answers floated in American media suggesting Muslims hate Americans because of "our freedoms," Chomsky says Islamic bitterness exists because the United States continues supporting repressive regimes that undermine democracy while touting its role in the world as an all-knowing liberator of the oppressed.

Not surprisingly, Chomsky is critical of the Bush administration over the Iraq war. But contrary to prevailing opinion, Chomsky suggests the policies driving this administration are not new or unique. In fact, he says they been driving US foreign policy since the 1950s. The real reason Bush is so intent on controlling Iraq? As one senior Middle East correspondent stated, the goals of the White House are "bolstering the president's popularity" for short-term political gain and turning a "'friendly' Iraq into a private American oil pumping station." Chomsky couldn't agree more. Expanding political power and U.S. control of the world's energy resources are major steps in the "imperial grand strategy" of permanent world domination.

Chomsky certainly does his homework. Whether or not you agree with his ideas, you have to give the guy credit for his exhaustive research, which enables him to cite dates and names and places associated with treaties not signed, government-media propaganda campaigns and dismantled international agreements. He also digs up quotes from former government officials and links them with remarks from present-day White House officials to illustrate the staying power of basic tenets of American foreign policy. For example, one Reagan-Bush official in 1992 described the United Nations as "perfectly serviceable as an instrument of American unilateralism." This sentiment was echoed ten years later when a White House chief of staff said, "The U.N. can meet and discuss, but we don't need their permission" to launch a preemptive strike on Iraq. The U.N. remains in this role because, ultimately, the US will "enforce the just demands of the world," even if the world overwhelmingly objects, according to Chomsky.

If you're not prepared to take on this book or if you still don't know what hegemony means, just know that the world did not suddenly become extraordinarily dangerous on September 11, 2001. What has changed since then is the reinterpretation of basic terms now being used to justify US policies. What constitutes terrorism? How does it differ from aggression or resistance? Chomsky explains there is "no sensible definition" of terrorism since 1) the official U.S. Code defines it the same as "counter-terrorism" and 2) official definitions of "terror" point to the US as a leading terrorist state. But what has stayed the same since 9/11 is the basic principle behind US foreign policy: Power takes precedence over survival. As documented in Hegemony, the last 50 years have seen a series of near misses when the US government risked world safety for a shot at more power. An eerie incident during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis left the world "one word away from nuclear war" when a Soviet submarine officer blocked an order to fire nuclear-armed torpedoes when attacked by a US destroyer.

I know, I know, this sounds pretty grim. But Chomsky is shaking your shoulder and trying to wake you from what he calls a "passing nightmare." There is a simple solution to reducing threats of terror: Stop participating in it. We can't bomb out of existence the political oppression and economic marginalization that triggered Al Qaeda. Chomsky tries to end on a hopeful note by looking to the gains of the human rights culture among the general population. As illustrated by the recent March on Washington, which drew over one million people concerned about the erosion of abortion rights, Chomsky sees tremendous strength in grassroots alliances. The thought of impacting US foreign policy by plopping Melissa Etheridge on a stage and waving around a sign may be overwhelming. But if a grassroots approach to policy change can FedEx George W. Bush back to Crawford, hell, paint me green and call me a blade!


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.