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A Reply to Joseph Alsop

The following letter was published recently in The Boston Globe.

July 17, 1969

The Editor

Boston Globe

Dear Sir:

In his column of July 16, Joseph Alsop announces his discovery that there is a severe repression underway in the Soviet Union. Further, he explains that Academician Sakharov has been “viciously disciplined” and may face prison, while American draft resisters, free from any danger of imprisonment, are probably studying theology in the Yale Divinity School. He wonders whether I will have the integrity to ponder these matters, and also lets loose a blast against the New York Review.

If Mr. Alsop were actually to read the journals he attacks he would have learned about the Soviet repression long ago, for example, in an article of mine in the New York Review of January 2, where he would have found these sentences: “In the grim atmosphere of the Soviet Union, resistance can barely be contemplated. All the more, then, must we honor those who do make their voices heard: Pavel Litvinov, Mrs. Larisa Daniel, and the others of the ‘Moscow Five,’ or ex-general Pyotr Gigorenko who has publicly denounced the ‘totalitarianism that hides behind the mask of so-called Soviet democracy’ and called upon his fellow-citizens to fight ‘the damned machine,’ and who has had the courage to stand up and say that ‘Freedom will come! Democracy will come.’ ” If he were to turn to the written word, rather than indulge in private fancy, he could also discover my actual views regarding Russian totalitarianism and its roots in Bolshevik ideology, a matter that I have discussed more than once, in some detail. As to the many hundreds of draft resisters in American prisons, and the thousands in exile, they will no doubt be relieved to hear that Alsop has granted them amnesty.

It is easy to trace Alsop’s muddle to its source. In the strange world he inhabits, it is inconceivable that a person can consistently oppose all forms of tyranny and repression. Therefore, even if he were to open the pages of the New York Review, he would be unable to comprehend what I meant, in the same article, when I wrote that “those who resist the war here are fighting the same battle as Larisa Daniel and Pyotr Gigorenko. And they are fighting a common enemy: the militarists and managers of repression on both sides of the iron curtain.” Alsop knows that I condemn the criminal violence in Vietnam of which he has long been a leading advocate, and he therefore concludes, with a weird but characteristic logic, that I must be tolerant of Russian tyranny. The facts are otherwise, as I have made clear many times. But Alsop is not one to be troubled by mere fact.

I mention these facts not to enlighten Joseph Alsop, who has long since passed beyond the reach of fact or reason, but for the benefit of those who may still believe that when they read an Alsop column they are being given a glimpse of the real world.

Sincerely yours,

Noam Chomsky

Cambridge, Mass.

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