Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Chapter 4: Adjuncts of Government Segment 10/10
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Under these circumstances, the task for the media is clear. First, they must apply the standard technique of historical amnesia and "change of course," which obliterates all memory of U.S. policies and their effects. Virtually a reflex, this device can be applied instantaneously. With the record and effects of U.S. violence removed from consciousness, along with the nature and consequences of U.S. economic warfare that have always been downplayed, we turn to the next phase. All suffering, discontent, and disruption are now plainly attributable to the evil Sandinistas. It is also useful to imply that Nicaraguans see the matter the same way, by careful selection of sources or misinterpretation of polls, for example.60 A fine model is presented in a three-part series on Nicaragua by Edward Sheehan in the liberal Boston Globe, headlined "A country still in agony." The three lengthy articles, bitterly denouncing the Sandinistas throughout, contain exactly one phrase that notes in passing that "the United States is partially to blame for Nicaragua's sorrow and the wrecked economy."61 For Nicaragua's agony, the Sandinistas are responsible. Apart from all else, the moral cowardice remains astonishing, however often the record is replayed.

For intelligent U.S. planners, it would be sensible to avoid the total destruction of Nicaragua or even its reincorporation within the "Central American mode," as liberal opinion prefers. It can then serve as "an object lesson" to poor countries that might be tempted to "[go] berserk with fanatical nationalism," as the New York Times editors thundered when the CIA successfully overthrew the parliamentary regime in Iran.62 In a conflict with a Third World country, a violent superpower with only limited internal constraints can hardly fail to achieve the goal of destroying any hope.

The U.S. achievements in Central America in the past decade are a major tragedy, not only because of the appalling human cost, but because a decade ago there were incipient and promising steps throughout the region towards popular organization and confronting basic human needs, with early successes that might have taught useful lessons to others plagued with similar problems -- exactly the fear of U.S. planners. These steps have been successfully aborted, and may never be attempted again.

The achievements of the Reagan administration in Nicaragua, revealed in the cold statistics of corpses, malnutrition, childhood epidemics, and the like, take on a more human cast in the occasional glimpse at the lives of the victims. Julia Preston provides one of the rare examples in the mainstream media under the headline: "In Jalapa, War-Induced Hardships Are Bolstering the Sandinista Cause." Jalapa, Preston writes, is a tiny town in "a vulnerable finger of land poking into hostile Honduras," an area readily accessible to the "Sons of Reagan" in their Honduran bases and largely dominated by hostile propaganda from powerful U.S.-run radio stations in Honduras. Here, if anywhere, the contras could apply the lessons imparted to them by their CIA trainers and exhibit the "growing self-confidence and skill" that so impressed A.M. Rosenthal as he read "James LeMoyne's carefully reported, sensitive accounts."63

In Jalapa, the contras are an object of contempt, Preston writes, mercenaries who "guessed wrong" about the "well-paid, secure jobs" they would get from the United States (see above). But "the contra war has left Jalapans enduring penury far worse than any they have ever known before." Severe hunger is rampant. The hospital, built in 1982 as "a symbol of the Sandinistas' commitment to improving social conditions" is nearly empty because people doubt it "will have the means to take care of them," thanks to the diversion of resources to the war and "away from this kind of social project" -- an achievement of which U.S. citizens can feel proud. Nevertheless, "the immense hardship has not turned Jalapa against the Sandinista revolution." Even anti-Sandinista townspeople "view the war as a new stage in a history of U.S. bullying of everyday Nicaraguans, of which the Somoza family dynasty was an indelible example." The literacy campaigns and "educational explosion," sharply curtailed by U.S. violence, "attract abiding loyalty" in Jalapa, if not in the United States, where they have been much derided as an instrument of totalitarianism. Many residents of the town see "a more informal, egalitarian society today." Peasants are no longer "servile" and landowners "superior," as under the Somoza regime and the U.S. model generally. "The Sandinistas made bank credit available for the first time to small farmers," and today, "everyone shares the same poverty," though with "a cry of frustration" over Reagan's success in having "delayed the revolution," a "gaunt peasant farmer says."

The long-term goals of the Reagan administration for Central America were clear from the outset. While Shultz, Abrams, Kirkpatrick, and company occupy an extreme position on the political spectrum in their enthusiasm for terror and violence, the general policy goals are conventional and deeply rooted in U.S. tradition, policy planning, and institutions, which is why they have received little attention or criticism within the mainstream. For the same reasons, they can be expected to persist. It is necessary to demolish "the people's organizations fighting to defend their most fundamental human rights" (Archbishop Romero) and to eliminate any threat of "ultranationalism" in the "fledgling democracies." As for Nicaragua, if it cannot be restored by violence to the "Central American mode" of repression and exploitation, then at least the United States must implement the reported boast of a State Department insider in 1981: to "`turn Nicaragua into the Albania of Central America,' that is, poor, isolated, and radical." The U.S. government must ensure that Nicaragua will "become a sort of Latin American Albania," so that "the Sandinista dream of creating a new, more exemplary political model for Latin America would be in ruins" (British journalist John Carlin).64

The goals have for the most part been achieved. The independent media deserve a large share of the credit, serving as adjuncts of government.

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60 See chapter 3, note 47.

61 BG, Oct. 30, 31, Nov. 1, 1988. The series also contains many distortions and outright lies, for example, the claim that in December 1987 Defense Minister Ortega "announced his objective of military forces of 600,000 men by 1995," which will add to those "legions of troops [that] produce nothing." As Sheehan and the editors know full well, Ortega announced a planned reduction of the military forces, with light arms to be distributed to the general working population. Useful propaganda fabrications are not readily abandoned.

62 See appendix V, section 3, for reference and background.

63 Preston, WP Weekly, Jan. 2-8, 1989. On U.S. dominance of the information system in large areas of Nicaragua, see Howard Frederick, "Electronic Penetration," in Walker, Reagan vs. the Sandinistas.

64 Thomas Walker, in Coleman and Herring, The Central American Crisis; Carlin, Independent (London), Feb. 1, 1988.