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Letters from Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda (Series in Critical Narrative) Paperback – February 21, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Review

The events have changed, but the patterns should still be recognizable on the evening news. -- Book News

About the Author

Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the author recently of Hopes and Prospects (2010) and Power and Terror (Paradigm 2011). His articles and books revolutionized the contemporary study of linguistics and his political writings are widely read and translated throughout the world. In 2003 a profile of Chomsky in the New Yorker described his influence as one of the most cited scholars in history.
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Product Details

  • Series: Series in Critical Narrative
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; Updated edition (February 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594510296
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594510298
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,309,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on August 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
Chomsky is the American Empire's worst enemy. Like anyone who challenges powerful interests and their claims to authority, he has been the target of an unrelenting, but increasingly ineffectual (sometimes comical), smear campaign. Noam Chomsky is a national treasure and a credit to the human species. Read Chomsky's "Letters", or anything else by one of the world's leading advocates for democracy and freedom.
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"Letters from Lexington : Reflections on Propaganda" is a compelling collection of letters which reveal the role of the US major media in justifying and championing US government and corporate actions throughout the world. One chapter which illuminates Chomsky's dissident analysis is the chapter entitled, "The PC Thought Police". In this chapter, Chomsky compares the US propaganda system to that of Brezhnev's USSR:
"In the study of any system, it is often useful to look at something radically different, to highlight crucial features. Let's begin, then, by looking at a society that is close to the opposite pole from ours: Brezhnev's USSR.
Consider policy formation. In Brezhnev's USSR, economic policy was determined in secret, by centralized power; popular involvement was nil, except marginally, through the Communist Party. Political policy was in the same hands. The political system was meaningless, with virtually no flow from bottom to top.
Consider next the information system, inevitably constrained by the distribution of economic-political power. In Brezhnev's USSR there was a spectrum, bounded by disagreements within centralized power. True, the media were never obedient enough for the commissars. Thus they were bitterly condemned for undermining public morale during the war in Afghanistan, playing into the hands of the imperial aggressors and their local agents from whom the USSR was courageously defending the people of Afghanistan. For the totalitarian mind, no degree of servility is ever enough.
There were dissidents and alternative media: underground samizdat and foreign radio.
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Chomsky writes that the Sandinistas won an election in November 1984 widely perceived as free and fair but U.S. elites put this down the memory hole. Michael Kinsley noted the "Orwellian" rhetoric of the Reaganites in blaming the Sandinistas for Nicargua's ruined economy, after it had been the official policy of the U.S. backed contras to destroy it. But he praised Nicaragua's 1990 elections as free and fair. Anthony Lewis praised the elections too but criticized the Central American policies of the administration--which included the economic embargo on Nicaragua supported by liberals like him. Chomsky quotes the UNO economist Fransisco Mayorga as estimating that the embargo cost Nicaragua 3 billion.

The implications suggesting that the U.S. is a terrorist state in that it was telling the Nicaraguan people that Contra terror and the embargo would continue unless they voted out the Sandinistas in Feb. 1990, was not noticed in the U.S. media. Indeed Time magazine celebrated the attacks on Nicaraguan civilian infrastructure i.e. U.S./contra war crimes as causing the Sandinistas to be voted out. The killing of the poor by the U.S. backed security forces in El Salvador and Guatemala, which ran elections under extreme terror, received little sustained attention.

Chomsky observes that Laurence Pezullo, while the last U.S. ambassador to Somoza, had advised the National Guard to continue its final mass murder operations which were killing tens of thousands. After Carter couldn't prevent the Sandinistas from taking power, the National Guard, the future Contras, were flown out in U.S. military planes with Red Cross markings (a war crime). The media had nothing to say about the U.S.
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This short book is lucidly written and full of Chomsky's subtle humor. It is Chomsky at his best and most accessible.
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The double entendre in the title of my review is intentional. Chomsky's letters not only sketch how the USA government manufactured domestic consent for its foreign policies during the early 1990s, it also (perhaps intentionally?) adumbrates by demonstration the salient aspects of the "propaganda model" Chomsky and Edward Herman explored in considerable depth in their work *Manufacturing Consent*.

As for the content of the work, I recommend that readers consult the excellent reviews by Chris Green (always, always read his reviews), Egalitarian, and "Reader" (10.10.99) on this page. I couldn't possibly improve on them.

One last observation: Chomsky resides in Lexington, but I can't help but wonder if the title selection plays on the historical significance Lexington has as the location for the beginning of the American Revolution. Perhaps I am poeticizing the title. Nevertheless, I am quite certain that this work will make the canon of literary political dissent as so many of Chomsky's works have already done.
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