Rogue States

by Noam Chomsky

Presented with a massive sale on a large number of Noam Chomsky books, I recently found myself the proud owner of about a billion of them, so expect them to crop up in my reviews periodically, at least for the foreseeable future. (It was kind of hard to decide which of his many works would be the best to choose from, so, in the interest of making a decision easier, I bought them all.) Similarly, not knowing where to begin, I sort of picked one at random––sort of; I mean, it did sound interesting, but I’m pretty sure most of them did. In Rogue States, a collection of articles and excerpts from various talks, Chomsky describes what makes a nation considered “rogue” on the world stage, usually by ignoring international law and being implicated in a myriad of human rights abuses, and uses this concept to present the United States as the strongest and most dangerous of them.

Chomsky describes the shift that occurred after the Cold War in the way the terror and aggression promoted by the US across the globe became rationalized. No longer able to point to the Red Menace as justification for such terrible actions, politicians started championing what the author describes as “new humanism”––intervening in order to “protect” civilian victims abroad by providing weapons and training to state terrorists, by employing harsh economic sanctions to starve the most vulnerable, or by simply bombing them. This was revisited and revised somewhat from the start of the 20th century, when it was similarly used as pretext for the slaughter and subjugation of the innocent by the US, in both cases to maintain international order favourable to this rogue power. (The book goes over devastating US impacts across the Middle East, the Balkans, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.)

And I found this all enlightening, even putting modern politics into better perspective, but a major, major problem presents itself: Rogue States is hugely repetitive. Each piece on its own, viewed through a narrow lens, is well-written and hugely informative, but the same or similar arguments get employed throughout. Top it off with frequent, verbatim repetition between pieces, and you can probably imagine things get to be a bit grating by the end. As such, I’m in an awkward spot when it comes to having an opinion about the collection. On one hand, the discussions within strike me as being of huge importance when it comes to truly understanding global affairs, but, on the other hand, it’s a bit of a tedious slog. Perhaps, if any readers plan to give it a try, pick one piece that discusses a topic of interest, and then put the book down for a week or longer in the hopes that it shields you from the repetition?