Noam Chomsky And Martha Gellhorn: The Use Of Factual Evidence And Historical References

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Intellectuals have the power to speak of the truths behind the lies, based on the factual information that they have witnessed; or researched enough about what takes place in foreign affairs. Whether you analyze events from the safety of your home or report front-line from the faces of death; nothing comes of that without some sort of consequence.

Although Noam Chomsky and Martha Gellhorn target different audiences within their essays on war and responsibility; both reveal important information through the use of factual evidence and historical references. Chomsky is stern and relentless in his criticism of American foreign policy. His target audiences were fellow intellectuals, presumably the upper-class males of society in the 1960’s. While Gellhorn has more of a sentimental, emotionally charged approach and her targeted audience are mostly women, the typical housewife in the 1960’s. They both have unique writing styles.

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Chomsky is highly informed and extremely intelligent. Because of that, he is able to accurately convey his ideologies with counterpoints of argumentation, with finesse, unlike any other writer I have seen. His responsibility as an intellectual is to do exactly what he is doing; reveal the truth using factual knowledge and historical references. Comparison of past and present foreign affairs is also something he is extremely good at doing. He is well versed in the atrocities of war because of his knowledge of historical events.

Chomsky forces his readers to confront reality. They are now uncomfortable with the information he has given them and feels that the United States government is lying, how can America be anything other than great, does it make us no longer the land of the free home of the brave? Instead of hyping-up his writings with sugar-coated bullshit, he is extremely forthright and expresses his right to freedom of speech.

The way he challenges the government with his relentless criticism is also a negative aspect that works against him when publishing these ideas and has hurt his reputation among many. He is in a safe zone, sitting back, and analyzing the information he only has that point of view backing his research. In comparison to Martha Gellhorn who is witnessing war after war from the front line as a journalist.

After reading Martha Gellhorn’s essay titled “Civilian Casualties In South Vietnam” (pg.378). I find few similarities between the two writers. Opening with a subjective theory of well-being, and ending with resentment. Martha witnessed events unfolding as she was reporting on the Vietnam War. Her factual knowledge with supporting evidence and inductive reasoning were communicated with personal opinion or bias regarding war.

She states that she has “witnessed the modern war in nine countries” (pg.378). Gellhorn’s’ focus is on the following subjects; the unnecessary civilian casualties, the number of unrecorded deaths and the thousands upon thousands of orphaned children who became “wounded forever” (pg. 380). She describes in a narrative voice; with great detail, the horror caused by the Napalm bombs. Pointing out the absurdity of the war and the unethical strategy; used by the American Military to target the Vietcong.

Using qualitative information, Gellhorn’s style of writing is straight-forward and not too wordy or long-winded like that of Chomsky’s prose. She also includes expert testimonies of doctors and other witnesses to expose more of the first-hand truths in the undeclared war on Vietnam. She speaks of statistics as part of her evidence regarding the overpopulated orphanages and their lack of properly accounting for all the orphans in those facilities (pg. 380). Because of the emotionally charged detail, she is labeled as sentimental instead of factual. This may have caused many to not take her seriously and could have had a negative impact on the responsibility of Americans accepting such blame.

Martha Gelhorn was doing her job as a responsible public intellectual, reporting the truths of what she witnessed, and pointing out facts like Chomsky expects from intellectuals he spoke of. Not only did that cause her to lose her job and reports went unpublished; she was banned from re-entry to South Vietnam, the only journalist that wasn’t allowed into the country. Thus becoming labeled as a communist; revealing the truth behind the lies. She could have just reported the propaganda that the government forced upon her colleagues covering up the savage atrocities in order to protect the American government’s reputation.

Martha’s essay had more of an emotional impact on me due to the fact that I am a mother, and would not want to have to face the tragic outcome of the napalm on any of my children; had that taken place here in America. Her persuasive writing style played on my feelings of sympathy for the mothers who had to see their babies mutilated; witnessing their pain every day for the rest of their lives would be hard to say the least. Chomsky’s essay angered me as an American and made me want to “fight the power”. I am disappointed in my country and our government for being so incredibly heartless.

So with that being said, I take from what I have learned and ask myself, am I ready to accept blame for these countless victims of war and rise against the powers that be; regardless of the outcome? Or am I still going to sit in the safety of my home, in my comfortable chair; feet up remote in hand, and click robotically through channel after channel of reality television or zone out to flesh-eating zombie apocalypse shows, like the government wants us to do. I will tell you one thing, before reading these essays and analyzing their content, I was that couch potato, clicking away, daily.

Now that I am better informed on the ways of our government, and what really happened in Vietnam, I will pay more attention to what is really going on in the world, and maybe even write a letter to the President, start a support group for victims of war via the internet. After all, as a human being I am an intellectual species, I have that power to expose lies and seek what truths hide behind them.


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