Foreign-policy critic speaks at West Point

WEST POINT — The U.S. Military Academy at West Point was host last night to one of the world’s foremost critics of American foreign policy.

Noam Chomsky, the Institute Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke at the academy as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series.

More than 500 people attended the lecture, most of them cadets who could someday serve in the Iraq war.

Last night, they heard the gray-haired scholar explain that, in his view, that the war in Iraq is unjust.

Chomsky, who spoke on the issue in response to a question from a cadet, said that while the war could be called preventive, it was still an act of aggression by the United States that most people in the world didn’t support.

He added that Iran might legitimately have grounds for its own preventive war.

“If preventative war is legitimate under these circumstances, it’s legitimate for everybody,” he said.

Ian McDougall of Boxborough, Mass., a cadet who attended the lecture, wouldn’t say whether he agreed with Chomsky. But he did enjoy the lecture, he said.

“Agree or disagree with the points, he’s certainly very well-read,” said McDougall, 20.

The bulk of Chomsky’s remarks revolved around “Just War Theory” — a theory, he said, that modern scholarship hasn’t sufficiently explained. Scholars who discuss the theory, he said, name wars they believe are “just” without providing arguments to support the label.

Chomsky, who spoke for roughly a half-hour before taking questions from the audience, also questioned which historic military acts could be considered pre-emptive in nature. For instance, he said, before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor — which prompted the United States’ entry into World War II — U.S. journals were publishing reports on America preparing fighter planes that could burn Japan’s wooden cities to the ground. Should Japan’s attack, he asked, then be considered pre-emptive?

Still, he added: “Does that justify Pearl Harbor? Not in 10 million years.”

Chomsky also discussed Israel’s military conflict with Lebanon, the war in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein’s violations of human rights, and the United States’ onetime support for the former Iraqi dictator.

At the end of his presentation, the military academy’s class of 2008 presented Chomsky with a framed picture of a part of the campus.

Lt. Col. Casey Neff, a staff member for the academy’s commandant’s office, said he too enjoyed Chomsky’s lecture.

Neff said Chomsky was at West Point to state a position and provoke debate.

The free speech of Chomsky and others, he said, “is one of the things we’re here to defend.” (All emphasis added).