back to flagrancy to reason
back to the beef
    The Hollow Khmer-Chomsky
    A question of particular theoretical import concerns the degree to which we make reality conform to our theories (see Thagard 1988, p. 151 for a discussion). Following Hanson (1958), some philosophers of science believe that our observations are theory-laden. Thus, if subscribers to two competing theories literally see a different world, then the contention that such theories are incommensurable would seem compelling enough. But one can also imagine an intermediate position between theory-relative observations and naive empiricism: "Observation is inferential, so that any given observation might be influenced by theory, but the inferential processes in observation are not so loose as to allow us to make any observation we want."

    It doesn't enrage anyone when I say this about enemies of the United States. Then it's obvious. What outrages them is when I try to show how these patterns also exhibited in our own society, as they are. If I were talking to a group of Russian intellectuals, they would be outraged that I failed to see the idealism and commitment to peace and brotherhood of the Russian state. That's the way propaganda systems function.

    They are murderous thugs, but we won't let that stand in our way. We are prepared to improve relations with them.

    When 540,000 tons 2,756,941 tons of American bombs finally stopped raining down on Cambodia on August 15th, 1973, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge subsequently won an ongoing civil war and, in the space of a few years, was responsible for somewhere between 750,000 to 3.3 million Cambodian deaths. The hodge-podge racists in the Khmer Rouge planned their "revolution" to first revert Cambodian society, culture and economy to one of pure and total agrarian subsistence: making it perhaps the first and only primitivist revolution in modern history.

    Since then great efforts have been made to show that Noam Chomsky went to great pains to lie about the Khmer Rouge, that he was somehow "beguiled" and supported their cause during the civil war, and afterward denied solid evidence of genocide. Chomsky has never apologized for his statements on the subject, his statements since have been quite clear to the effect that there was, in fact, a genocide [1], and the argument is thusly whether his statements at the time classify as "denial", presumably in the fashion of deniers of the holocaust, of Pol Pot's genocide.

    Online, at least, there are two critics usually referenced when alleging that Chomsky and Herman, as Brad Delong would put it, "carried water for Pol Pot": Sophal Ear's master's thesis on academic research into the genocide from 1975 to 1979; and Bruce Sharp's Averaging Wrong Answers. An attack from the right-wing press is also briefly discussed, but it only merits discussion by virtue of its obvious lack of merit.

    Pretending to Know the Truth

    Debate concerning the final toll - that which C&H "do not pretend to know where the truth lies amidst these conflicting assessment" - continues, despite unprecedented efforts to estimate it accurately. As of 1994 Vickery, the source for the lowest estimate, maintains his position that tolls in the 2-3 million range simply aren't possible demographically and that the KR could only be responsible for still-gruesome tolls equal or under some 1 million deaths "above normal peacetime totals". If he addresses arguments that the demographic research upon which he relies is faulty, however, it isn't here. The CGP - a program started by the State Department after the US finally ended its support for Pol Pot in the early 90s - has suggested as high an estimate as 3.3 million, similar to a figure produced by the Vietnamese installed regime in 1983 for the overall total deaths during the KR period. The CGP concluded that the 1983 conclusion "might have been overestimated by a factor of perhaps fifty-percent", but by later taking the assumption that all projected 1.5 million bodies found in mass grave sites were summarily executed and then projecting starvation, overwork, and natural causes in addition to the mass graves from ratios determined in demographic research the proportionate estimates of cause of death the CGP then projects back up to the 3.3 million figure. The 3.3 million total is outside the range of cited figures by demographic researchers (the same figures the CGP uses to discredit Vickery's numbers) which put the overall total decline in population between 1.8 and 2.5 million without factoring in for birth rate reduction and net emigration, which when factored results in the generally accepted 1+ million range.

    Because these people are all talking about different things - Vickery is estimating the number above normal peace-time totals attributable to the KR, Etcheson and others are estimating total deaths during the period or to be found in mass graves - these widely differing ranges don't appear to be entirely mutually exclusive when one factors in the differing treatment of overall responsibility, but they do point to continued debate and difficulty in making such estimates, and would seem to call into question the uncritical reports of 1-2 million cited in the press between the Springs of 1975 and 1977, considering that the KR engaged in well over another year of massacre and intense infighting before the Vietnamese invasion. On the other hand none of these figures deny what is commonly and loosely (in my opinion rightly) referred to as genocide.

    These debates are typical. For comparison purposes consider the similarly wide range (1 to 3 million) in numbers murdered by the Pakistani government over the course of 9 months in East Pakistan in 1971. Note the caution with which reports of atrocities are treated by serious researchers, in this case the International Commission of Jurists. These aren't really debates about factual analysis so much as they're debates about politics, a debate in which Chomsky was involved at the time only to note the side on which the media was playing. From the perspective of 1978 the question of whether Pol Pot was a mass murderer or instead a genocidal maniac was up in the air - and this seems to be the question over which he is called an 'apologist' - such confusion hardly sums to denial and apologia for said crimes.

    Given that the monster of the Cambodian genocide was supported by my government after the major crimes were discovered in full and during the continued campaign of terror against Cambodians for a decade afterwards, and the monster of the Pakistani genocide was ("secretly", much like the bombing of Cambodia) supported by my government before, during, and after the crimes, it just makes me a little sad all around. It is, howeverly, painfully obvious to any upright citizen that the real problem here is Chomsky, to whom we will now return.

    keeping up appearances

    Sophal Ear argues in The Chomsky-LaCouture Controversy that "Chomsky devised an attack strategy on the media that would allow him to criticize Ponchaud, Barron-Paul, and the media for specific erratas, but without the appearance of searching for facts on Cambodia. His favorable position towards the Khmer revolution would be hidden by the cloak of criticizing the print media's biases." Meaning, if we're to treat this seriously, that Sophal is unable to identify an outright favorable position on the Khmer revolution, and so we must second-guess Chomsky and Herman's true intentions over those they explicitly state.

    With respect to the impact of the American bombing Sophal treats references to it as the "same old broken record", suggesting that a war between "the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the Khmer Republic, and the FUNK" that was largely initiated and sustained by American involvement was the equal fault of all parties. Is he an apologist for American crimes? Who knows: Sophal isn't investigating American crimes, he's investigating academia's response to Khmer Rouge crimes and the second stage of genocide inside Cambodia.

    Sophal's argument relies on an alleged positive bias for the Khmer Rouge found in Chomsky/Hermans' 1977 Distortions at Fourth Hand within their criticism of the US coverage of the evils of (for a brief period) an official and ideological enemy, and of weaknesses in reports alleging mass executions and genocide. Sophal and other critics focus primarily on the criticisms of Barron and Paul's sources and Father Ponchaud's reliance on refugee testimony in Thailand. Incidentally Sophal never at any point denies the fact that all of the specific fabrications (such as the WP publication of hoaxed photos of forced labor in 1977) and much of the criticism cited in DAFH were accurate, and leaves most of it untouched.

    To start off with Sophal mischaracterizes, misunderstands, or makes a lot of unevidenced assumptions about, the basic argument of his targets when he writes that reports of genocide in Cambodia

    "no doubt caused significant alarm, if not distress, on the part of those who opposed American intervention in Southeast Asia. They were, in essence, being told that their struggle against the War had resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of people in Indochina. The Chomskian line was to attack and discredit the Western media for basing its stories and editorials on third-hand accounts."

    On the face of it this is absurd: those opposing the American intervention in Southeast Asia were struggling against an intervention that had already resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Indochina - indeed, by 1973 millions of Southeast Asians had been killed by the effects of the American war, just as many thousands continue to into the present.

    The "Chomskian line" in DaFH was that reports giving credible coverage "emphasize both the extraordinary brutality on both sides during the civil war (provoked by the American attack) and repeated discoveries that massacre reports were false." Sophal doesn't discredit this analysis or discredit the discrediting of discredited reports of massacre, leaving us with a stance which precludes the interpretation of events that lays the deaths of hundreds of thousands at the feet of the anti-war movement - which is just ass backwards poppycock - or, further, that:

    American support for the ouster of Sihanouk (viewed by the rural populace as the father of the country), in a coup by General Lon Nol and the subsequent invasion of Cambodia by U.S. troops in April 1970 prompted a backlash that strengthened support for the insurgent Khmer Rouge (KR) guerrillas.

    This is the basic fact of the matter, and was the position Chomsky - as he entertained an unskeptical response to the media's reporting of mass atrocities in 1978 ("skepticism is aroused ... by the many documented falsehoods", none of which any of these critics seem to question) - took to begin with.

    Given the media blackout inside the country Chomsky's criticisms can hardly be seen as even all that radical, let alone as evidence for a devious and calculated plot to defend mass murder, or for that matter as an avoidance of guilt - being as Chomsky explicitly lays a heavy share of the burden at the feet of his own elected government.

    At the same time C&H take Ponchaud to task for what are inaccurately high numbers for victims of the US bombing, not only his reliance on refugee testimonial: were they strictly limited in their analysis by the biases assumed by Sophal such a criticism would be unlikely - under the Sophal thesis one would expect them to leave it unmentioned or tout it as further evidence of American crimes. Furthermore, the focus of criticism on Western media is that press reviews of Ponchaud's work neglect to mention the impact of the US role in the destruction of Cambodia and in the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Ponchaud's refugee testimonial is considered questionable because it remains, by C&H's argument, unverified by independent sources.

    Sophal states that their "originality, inventiveness and ingenuity .... are qualities which have allowed Chomsky and Herman to maintain to this day that they were right all along." It is perhaps an accurate assessment of this controversy, as "Their complete trust in the righteousness of Khmer Rouge actions" is never demonstrated.

    When Chomsky and Herman end the piece by disclaiming knowledge of the truth ("We do not pretend to know where the truth lies amidst these sharply conflicting assessments") Sophal makes yet another absurd attack, calling this statement "craftily hid[ing] their argument in the cloak of academic sophistry". Declaring what it is that you don't know and suggesting a direction for further research isn't sophistry, it's just academic. H&C can analyze the media without "pretending to know where the truth lies" on the overall substance of the story by virtue of what is and is not on the whole reported, and the accuracy of what is reported with respect to what is known, so if fabrications or hoaxes are reported as fact, it's worth, I think, noting. Likewise press accounts that fail to mention the context of the American war in Cambodia would be, in fact, biased, and likewise worth noting. Noting what is as yet unknown, such as the scale of post-war violence in Cambodia, from the academic perspective or for that matter the polemical, is, needless to say, also worth noting.

    The crux of the matter is what was known at the time: to prove that Chomsky "denied" genocide they have to demonstrate that there was no reason for the skepticism they demonstrate towards certain sources at the time it was demonstrated. But first we must spend some time getting to what was known then, versus what was known later.

    The Timewarp Gun - by Milton Bradley <tm>

    Were it an accusation of apologia - for which it is often cited - Bruce Sharp's similar but far less conspiratorial analysis would approach Sophal's general level of absurdity, for different reasons. Bruce Sharp's allegations are that Chomsky's "refusal to reconsider his words has led to continued misinterpretations of what really happened in Cambodia" because "Chomsky's work with regard to Cambodia has been marred by omissions, dubious statistics, and, in some cases, outright misrepresentations".

    Like Sophal, Sharp criticizes the writers for "shift[ing] focus back to their propaganda model", which is little more than the entire premise of their work. But Sharp has bigger problems, namely the issue of time:

    To discredit a passage in a book published in October of 1979, for example, he quotes a book published in 1985 describing the situation William Shawcross saw in 1979 - after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that ended on January 7th of that year. To further illustrate their "dubious spin on reality" Sharp cites a book on classified KR documents that was published in 1989 to disprove the material in a book, again, published in October of 1979. This pattern of citing sources written after After the Cataclysm is repeated with respect to Shane Tarr, Kiernan's estimate of deaths in the evacuation of Phnom Penh, and throughout much of the rest of the work when describing facts and research that C&H are supposed to have been aware of from 1975 to 1979.

    This isn't the "selective editing" that Sharp accuses Chomksy of, this is living in a timewarp. The objective of these critics is necessarily to prove that the authors' skepticism of media accounts of KR atrocities was unwarranted and that the facts were in at the time they wrote skeptical reviews of press accounts. We would expect that the point of Sharp's discussion to be what was known at the time the work was written.

    The Narrow Offense

    The sources on Cambodia at the time are what is relevant, those listed in DaFH are the much discussed Father Ponchaud (published in French in 1977), Barron and Paul (1977), and Hildebrand and Porter (1976); but C&H also go on to cite numerous other sources: "eyewitness reports and books by French and American correspondents and observers long familiar with Cambodia (e.g., Richard Dudman, Serge Thion, J.C. Pomonti, Charles Meyer)"; "the Swedish journalist, Olle Tolgraven, or Richard Boyle of Pacific News Service, the last newsman to leave Cambodia, who denied the existence of wholesale executions; nor do they cite the testimony of Father Jacques Engelmann, a priest with nearly two decades of experience in Cambodia"; "such journals as the Far Eastern Economic Review, the London Economist, the Melbourne Journal of Politics, and others elsewhere, have provided analyses by highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available".

    Sharp and Sophal, focusing primarily on the works of Father Ponchaud and Barron and Paul, bother little wih these sources cited in DaFH, which, according to the subjects of the argument:

    ...concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands; that these were localized in areas of limited Khmer Rouge influence and unusual peasant discontent, where brutal revenge killings were aggravated by the threat of starvation resulting from the American destruction and killing. These reports also emphasize both the extraordinary brutality on both sides during the civil war (provoked by the American attack) and repeated discoveries that massacre reports were false. They also testify to the extreme unreliability of refugee reports, and the need to treat them with great caution, a fact that we and others have discussed elsewhere (cf. Chomsky: At War with Asia, on the problems of interpreting reports of refugees from American bombing in Laos).

    Sharp actually quotes this passage, what he doesn't do is discuss any of the listed sources. Instead he says that members of the press that remained in Cambodia "witnessed macabre scenes of horror as the entire city of Phnom Penh, swollen with refugees, was evacuated." This is completely contradictory to the description given by Chomsky's summarization of the last reports from those still in Cambodia. The obvious line of criticism for Sharp would be to go back to those sources and show that Chomsky is lying about their content. His failure to do so would suggest that either these multiple sources were lying about what they saw when they denied the existence of wholesale executions, that Chomsky and Herman are misrepresenting their reporting, that the characterization of those reports is completely accurate, or that mentioning those sources would be inconvenient for writing a hit piece.

    He doesn't discuss it, but leaves the accuracy of that summation of their content entirely by the wayside. It seems reasonable to assume that, as captives in the French Embassy, there are simple reasons for why these witnesses wouldn't have been able to report on said atrocities which did in fact occur - because they simply might not have witnessed nor heard of them from their perch at the French Embassy.

    Equally plausible, at the time, would have been that no such atrocities occurred on the scale attributed by refugee testimony or B&P's sources, or that such atrocities did not occur until later. If we are to estimate the intentions of Chomsky and Herman then what these other sources said would be of some import. If these sources described limited post-revolutionary violence or denied the existence of mass executions, as compared to reporting outright genocide, would C&H be wrong in being overly skeptical of unverified refugee accounts and statements out of USG propaganda organs?

    In another inaccurate allegation Sharp paraphrases Chomksy as, in 1977 correspondance between Chomsky and Ponchaud, "describ[ing] reports of atrocities as a 'flood of lies'". Chomsky's statement obviously, from the quote Sharp includes, refers to documented fabrications in the press and what Sharp himself describes as the "flawed, right-wing account" of Barron and Paul, and clearly not the reports from refugees, which C&H say, with reasons for caution noted, are "serious and worth reading".

    The authors describe, in a passage from After the Cataclysm, the "record of atrocities in Cambodia" committed by the KR as "substantial and often gruesome", Sharp quotes this passage and finds it distressing because of the "tone". But, to return to the point of their book and address the matter of "tone", what is it that Chomsky and Herman found distressing about what they saw in Western coverage of the Cambodian revolution? They repeat, clearly, that it is the lack of context regarding the suffering caused by the American bombing and the impact it had on agriculture and the effect American intervention had on the country's internal politics: responsible, in effect, for the very rise of the Khmer Rouge over more moderate forces.

    Niether Sophal nor Sharp make the case otherwise, so it is simply assumed that discussing the press is nothing more than cynical cover for some ulterior motive, and thus any comments regarding the slowly growing body of evidence is otherwise tossed aside as mere "sophistry".

    As seems to be established - as Sharp never actually returns to what is "dubious" about the claim - is that questions remained as to what exactly was happening inside Cambodia, certainly in 1977 when DaFH was published, and were not finally answered until researchers could re-enter and report back from Cambodia in 1979. Was it heavy to extreme revolutionary brutality that was taking place? Was it outright genocide? Were refugees - many of whom, as Sharp notes, were forcefully repatriated back to Cambodia - exaggerating the crimes of the KR when showing up in the thoroughly anti-communist Thailand to please the authorities? Were they political exiles wishing to discredit the new regime? To assess these questions as unreasonable by quoting materials written long after the researchers that went to Cambodia in 1979 returned is bizzare.

    In After the Cataclysm Chomsky and Herman attempt to assess the press's job of dealing with these questions before Cambodia is again accessible to media and researchers. Sharp doesn't even attempt to prove that the press at the time adhered to "critical standards", or dispute that "'facts' [were] contrived", his only source for the atrocities described that was in print at the time is Ponchaud, everything else is published long after AtC.

    What was known about the effects of the American campaign at the time of Chomsky and Herman's work? Summarizing William Shawcross' Sideshow - published in April of 1979, six months prior to AtC - Marilyn Young (The Vietnam Wars, p. 283) describes American efforts in Cambodia during the final six weeks of bombing:

    An increasingly powerful faction in the Cambodian insurgency, led by Pol Pot, distrusted Sihanouk and despised Hanoi, convinced Vietnam had bought peace for itself at the expense of Cambodia. The longer the bombing continued, the stronger Pol Pot's faction grew, until the space left for a more moderate leftist coalition disappeared entirely. A genteel Congress had expected the intensity of the bombing to descrease in its final weeks; instead, the number of sorties increased: "On Air Force maps of Cambodia thousands of square miles of densely populated, fertile areas are marked black from the inundation." As William Colby, head of the CIA, explained to Congress when asked to justify the ferocity of the bombing, "Cambodia was then the only game in town," and it was about to close down. By the end of 1973, 2 million of Cambodia's 7 million people were refugees, although the United States, an AID report observed, "assumed no responsibility for the generation of refugees in Cambodia." Thus only $2.5 million had been made available for humanitarian aid while economic and military aid amounted to $1.85 billion. It cost another $7 billion to bomb the place."

    This is the context necessary to understand what Francois Ponchaud was writing about, Chomsky and Herman take umbrage at the fact that it was left out of press reviews of Ponchaud's work. To counter this, Bruce Sharp notes protests and the act of Congress that allowed Nixon an additional six weeks to persue the campaign just described, events that were "driven by public outcry", not by the media's coverage of American crimes. To quote Sharp, "One would think that a description of the plight of civilians ... might mention that they were being shelled on a daily basis" for years prior to the rise of Khmer Rouge. What did Chomsky think, assuming the condemnations of Khmer Rouge were accurate, in 1978? Should the opposition to the war be reconsidered, as Sophal explicitly suggests? Chomsky's reply, unnoted by either critic, is straightforward:

    One who raises this question must be assuming (1) that the U.S. war was intended to avert Khmer Rouge barbarity, or might have had this likely effect; and (2) that the U.S. has the right to exercise force and violence to avert potential crimes.

    Assumption (1) is ludicrous in the light of the factual record. Cambodia was an island of relative tranquility prior to the American invasion of 1970, though it had been repeatedly attacked by American and U.S.-backed forces from 1957 on. There was limited local insurgency, aroused by government repression, even by the 1960s. As Vietnamese were driven to a narrow border strip by the savage American military operations of early 1967, direct U.S. attacks on Cambodia escalated. By May 1967, the Pentagon was concerned that Cambodia was "becoming more and more important as a supply base -- now of food and medicines, perhaps ammunition later," an obvious consequence of U.S. operations in Vietnam and Laos. In March 1969. shortly after the "secret bombings" began, Sihanouk vainly called upon the Western press to publicize his government's protest over the "criminal attacks" on Khmer peasants. The 1970 invasion helped organize the Khmer Rouge rebellion as thousands of peasants rallied to the resistance under the impact of the vicious bombing and ground attacks of the U.S. military and the Vietnamese forces it organized. Charles Meyer, who had long been close to ruling forces in Cambodia, warned then that "it is difficult to imagine the intensity of the hatred (of the peasants) for those who destroyed their villages and their possessions" (Derriere le sourir khmer). This was well before the murderous American bombings of the 1970s, which surely inflamed peasant hatred and desire for revenge.

    Those who failed to devote their energies to ending the American war in Indochina bear a double burden of guilt: for the atrocities committed under American initiative and for the legacy of starvation, disease, hatred, and revenge that was a direct and predicted consequence of the attack on rural Cambodia. Similar remarks apply in the case of Vietnam and Laos.

    Sharp spends little if any time discussing this, suggesting that the extensive coverage of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia - which was, again, completely emptied of members of the Western media and an informational blackhole until after the Vietnamese invasion ten months prior to the release of After the Cataclysm, which in turn, as side effects: brought the genocide to a halt; Western journalists into the country; and the genocidal Pol Pot over a decade of generous American support - was because of "Hundreds of American lives ... lost in Cambodia, and billions of dollars ... spent in a futile attempt to prop up Lon Nol." Perhaps we should compare this to the billions of dollars spent supporting Suharto's campaign in East Timor (90% of the weapons in that invasion were supplied by the US) or the massive purges he committed earlier in his own country when the CIA helped bring him to power? All totaled Suharto and his supporters in Washington had somewhere around a million or more lives on their hands, a tally comparable to Pol Pot. There was no corresponding breadth of Western coverage, which by Sharp's criteria should have been "a direct consequence of the U.S. involvement". Chomsky and Herman's actual point about the press coverage - that exaggerations of the terror in post-war Indochina served as post-hoc justification for the terror of the American war that was much its cause - is rather ellided in all this.

    Why I Won't Be Reading After the Cataclysm

    Keith Windschuttle's The Hypocrisy of Noam Chomsky, also briefly describes this same episode. Windschuttle is, to put it bluntly, either a very poor reader, a rather average liar, or a bad researcher. Either way he's still a pretty sorry hack. He argues thusly:

    What Chomsky avoided telling his readers, however, was that well before 1980, the year After the Cataclysm was published, Kiernan himself had recanted his position.

    Kiernan had spent much of 1978 and 1979 interviewing five hundred Cambodian refugees in camps inside Thailand. They persuaded him they were actually telling the truth. He also gained a mass of evidence from the new Vietnamese-installed regime. This led him to write a mea culpa in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars in 1979.

    As is readily available information to anyone who can use, AtC was published in October 1979. When, exactly, did Kiernan publish his findings? It just so happens that Sophal Ear discusses this same mea culpa:

    In what amounted to a mea culpa in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (October-December 1979) titled "Vietnam and the Governments and People of Kampuchea," [Kiernan] writes, "I was wrong about ... the brutal authoritarian trend within the revolutionary movement after 1973 was not simply a grass-roots reaction, and expression of popular outrage at the killing and destruction of the countryside by U.S. bombs, although that helped it along decisively. There can be no doubting that the evidence also points clearly to a systematic use of violence against the population by that chauvinist section of the revolutionary movement that was led by Pol Pot.

    The incotrovertable evidence of the genocide, the independent verification of Father Ponchaud's interviews that Chomsky and Herman found lacking, wasn't published until after AtC had already been sent to the publisher for print. They were released almost simultaneously. The State Department funded Cambodian Genocide Program, founded after the USG finally ceased its support for the Khmer Rouge in the 90s, itself outlines the numerous difficulties in calculating the scale of the KR massacre here. Who, exactly, continues to deny that the KR ruthlessly killed innocent Cambodians on a massive scale in light of the actual evidence, remains an open question.

    Finally, that all the facts were not in by 1979 is made clear by these author's own assertions: Bruce Sharp cites - before a segue into Chomsky's role as a propaganist [2] - Sophal Ear's argument in chapter four [3] of his analysis of media coverage of human rights violations. Sophal says flat out that "incontrovertible evidence" had not "surfaced" until "after the Vietnamese invasion" and "after the publication of Chomsky and Herman's After the Cataclysm".

    I don't need to read After the Cataclysm, these guys fall upon each others' footnotes.

    The Humanitarian Response, Or Lack There Of

    For all three of these authors the major underlying fault they find in these works is that discrediting any reports of genocide undermined the possibility of Western intervention on behalf of suffering Khmers. This begs the question as to what was the official Western response to the Vietnamese intervention that ended said suffering. Looking at the record in the ensuing UN debate on the intervention reveals the Western position plainly - while Vietnam argued that it had merely defended itself against the border attacks from Cambodia, every country outside the Soviet bloc condemned the Vietnamese intervention [4], and resolutely insisted on something similar to what the UK delegate argued: "Whatever is said about human rights in Kampuchea, it cannot excuse Vietnam ... for violating the territorial integrity of Democratic Kampuchea." None of these countries, with the exception of the Phillipines, chose to describe the conditions there as genocide - the only countries to do so were Communist: the German Democratic Republic, Laos, and Afghanistan. In effect the only countries to declare in 1979 that a communist genocide under Pol Pot had occurred in Cambodia were Communist bloc countries.

    The pretext here, in terms of the present discussion, is that authors such as Chomsky, writing in marginal left-wing journals, prevented the West from congratulating Vietnam for ending Pol Pot's genocide. That or some people were capable of looking at Southeast Asia in 1977 and thought the thing to do would be to go back and start bombing again.

    Hence Windschuttle complains that Chomsky "attacked Senator George McGovern's call for military intervention". Without knowing the substance of McGovern's policy proposal, given the substance of US intervention in South East Asia to prevent Communist atrocities one would expect any further intervention to take the form of more bloody US atrocities to prevent bloody Communist atrocities. The US had already killed some 3-5 million people trying to figure out the number of bombs it would take to prevent such an atrocity. This is clearly a principled stance.

    Bruce Sharp, who happens to reject military intervention out of hand, argues more sensibly that

    The Khmer Rouge could not have been removed peacefully, but this misses a crucial point: it is possible to affect the world without overthrowing governments. The consequences of world opinion extend beyond borders. Consider the situation of Khmer refugees in Thailand: Until the overwhelming volume of refugees made it impossible, the Thais simply jailed or repatriated the vast majority of refugees who managed to escape. Thousands died in these repatriations. That policy was made possible in part by the world's refusal to accept the enormity of what was happening within Cambodia.

    It's useful to consider this. In what fashion would an American, reading a report of the KR's brutal savagery, find reason to pressure the US government to alleviate the suffering of Cambodian refugees (something that Washington could have easily arranged with the Thai state, with which it was instead secretly trying to arrange backing for the Khmer Rouge while publically denouncing their human rights abuses)? Would not an outline of America's role in the first stage of the Cambodian genocide and setting up the second stage create a greater sense of responsibility in the reader for Cambodian suffering? Wouldn't the 2 million Khmer refugees created by the American bombing warrant such concern? In point of fact, wouldn't they be shocked to know of the US government's support for this same Pol Pot for over a decade after the genocide was ended by the Vietnamese invasion, a relatively brief affair that took a mere two weeks, acheiving what hadn't been achieved by the US military and operatives in a long and bloody campaign in the same country? Wouldn't they be moved to pressure their government on behalf of suffering Cambodians and oppose the subsequent blockaid on humanitarian aid to Cambodia immediately after the invasion, and embargo that continued until 1991? In essence, or at least the case is plainly arguable, it was their percieved imbalance of the reporting of such matters that lead Chomsky and Herman to make their criticisms of the press in 1977. Now run a poll that asks factual questions and see how many people actually know about all of it. The results might help explain why Chomsky writes like such a biased asshole.

    Bruce Sharp, who was kind enough to respond to this rant, has pointed out that the argument I'm addressing here isn't the argument he made (corrected since), because he doesn't intend to imply that Chomsky is a KR apologist - rather that C&H are misleading if they're the only source cited on the subject. Depending on where somebody is coming from I expect he would be, but compared to what? Arguing that something written in the 1970s is misleading when compared to stuff written in the 1980s is misleading. Material has since been added to this document, with regard to Bruce's comments primarily the inclusion of Etcheson's most recent estimates and this paragraph.

    There is only one possible conclusion to all this, however: Chomsky is a Khmer Rouge supporter, as is anyone who paid taxes to the United States Government between 1979 and 1991.

    --josh buermann, 12/2003.

    1. Occasionally this nonsense is exaggerated even further and its claimed that he continues to deny the crimes of the Khmer Rouge: Manufacturing Consent, chapter 5, section 6.2 Chomsky & Herman - agreeing with the Finish Inquiry Commission - repeatedly refer to the Khmer Rouge period as "Phase II of the 'decade of genocide'", and affirm that assessment, quoting themselves from After the Cataclysm:
      As we also noted from the first paragraph of our earlier review of this material, to which we will simply refer here for specifics, "there is no difficulty in documenting major atrocities and oppression, primarily from teh reports of refugees"; there is little doubt that "the recored of atrocities in Cambodia is substantial and often gruesome", and represents "a fearful toll"; "when the facts are in, it may turn out that the more extreme condemnations were in fact correct"

      Having just repeatedly referred to it as Phase II of the genocide, one surmizes they agree with the more extreme condemnations. They then return to defending their decision to talk about "the United States, not Indochina".

      One could just as well quote him saying "the great act of genocide of the modern period is Pol Pot". Since he was never in denial of anything in the first place it shouldn't be surprising that he's not denying it now.

    2. After quoting a passage in which Chomsky describes Vietnam 'doves' Sharp uses it as an example of Chomsky's draconian "Party-Line", it "implies that those who were opposed to the Vietnam War were not really opposed to it if the grounds of their opposition was not the same as Chomksy's": the obvious problem with Sharp's argument is that the 'doves' Chomsky talks about were not opposed to the war, but believed it should have been waged in a different manner. They cannot be described as opposed to the war if they were, in fact, for it. This is "trying to keep the debate within ... accepted assumptions" only in the sense that the English language has ruthlessly defined "pro" and "anti" as polar opposites.
    3. Regarding media coverage of Chile specifically, which Sophal argues was given greater coverage than Cambodia (citing Accuracy in Media, which is, as a matter for argument, right-wing flak astroturfing - the analysis doesn't bother to examine the content of the reports, even assuming their dubious statistics are accurate to begin with) I will merely note that the CIA's organization of Pinochet's coup was little known at the time, largely because the one American journalist who uncovered the US role - Charles Horman - was murdered, an act in which the US State Department concluded the CIA may have played "an unfortunate part".
    4. The official Soviet response and the response of most of the Warsaw Pact was to deny that any invasion had occurred. This would be approxiamately the same reaction as one finds in the still common narrative in the United States that the US never invaded Vietnam, regardless of the obvious reality. So far as establishment American media is concerned [* * *], our meta-subject would argue, this narrative might as well be fact. I would note one recent exception.