The Responsibility of Intellectuals

Using Privilege to Challenge the State

Noam Chomsky

A San Francisco mural depicting Archbishop Óscar Romero / Photograph: Franco Folini

Since we often cannot see what is happening before our eyes, it is perhaps not too surprising that what is at a slight distance removed is utterly invisible. We have just witnessed an instructive example: President Obama’s dispatch of 79 commandos into Pakistan on May 1 to carry out what was evidently a planned assassination of the prime suspect in the terrorist atrocities of 9/11, Osama bin Laden. Though the target of the operation, unarmed and with no protection, could easily have been apprehended, he was simply murdered, his body dumped at sea without autopsy. The action was deemed “just and necessary” in the liberal press. There will be no trial, as there was in the case of Nazi criminals—a fact not overlooked by legal authorities abroad who approve of the operation but object to the procedure. As Elaine Scarry reminds us, the prohibition of assassination in international law traces back to a forceful denunciation of the practice by Abraham Lincoln, who condemned the call for assassination as “international outlawry” in 1863, an “outrage,” which “civilized nations” view with “horror” and merits the “sternest retaliation.”

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One Response to “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”
  1. Vadim says:

    I don’t usually agree with your politics but you make a good point. We are told he ‘made a move for his AK-47’ but I don’t know how true that is.

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