Chomsky's Support for the Khmer Rouge (Usenet debate, Sep 96, 3/5)

First posted 981107
Latest minor update y10823
Trivial change 2007/0516
Copyright © 1996 by Hugo S. Cunningham and others

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Newsgroups: alt.anarchism,alt.society.anarchy,talk.politics.theory,
Subject: Re: Chomsky's bad faith proven:  the Khmer Rouge record
  [was  Re: Chomsky, was " If the left is understood to include
'Bolshevism,' then I would flatly dissociate myself from the left.
 Lenin was one of the greatestenemies of socialism, in my opinion,
 for reasons I've discussed.
Re: Ideologies, politics, history  (was: The Murder Sweepstakes)
From: (Hugo S. Cunningham)
Date: Mon, 23 Sep 1996 02:51:45 GMT (Keith) wrote:

>Hugo S. Cunningham ( wrote:

[deletion:  I may address some of this earlier stuff in a separate
posting, but this one has already grown too long.]]

>> For those without access to a library, I include a few quotes, but,
>> again, try to check it out for yourself.  (And keep in mind that Khmer
>> Rouge barbarism had already been a subject of general notoriety for
>> two years, since 1975.)

>> From the "Nation" article:

>> Chomsky approvingly refers to "analyses by highly qualified
>> specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available, and
>> who concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands."
>> (N., p. 791, column 1)

>First of all, note that Chomsky is referring to executions, not the
>total number of people killed. Hugo is attempting to say that Chomsky
>is thereby concluding that the total number of people killed is in the
>thousands, which is a mis-reading of the above passage.

My quotes give the overall thrust of the article, that  Western
estimates of the Khmer Rouge death toll were wildly exaggerated and
overdrawn (perhaps designed to make regimes accepted by the West seem
good in comparison).
    (more on this below)

>By the way, here are what some analyses done after the Vietnamese 
>invasion found:

>                    Executions              Total Dead

>Finish Inquiry	    75,000-100,000          1,000,000

>Michael Vickery     200,000-300,000         750,000

>The CIA             50,000-100,000          Unavailable

>Carlyle Thayer      50,000-60,000           500,000

Is a regime somehow less culpable for the peaceable civilians it
uproots and sends to die of malnutrition, overwork, exposure, disease,
beatings, and torture in concentration camps and uninhabitable
     Perhaps 10% of the 20 million Stalin is commonly accused of
murdering were actually shot.  In Stalin's single greatest bloodbath,
Collectivization (1929-33), his principal weapon was an artifical
     Nazi-Holocaust revisionists, after supposedly debunking the
existence of gas chambers, admit (in the face of overwhelming
demographic and forensic evidence) that yes, several hundred thousand
Jews apparently died in concentration camps, but that was for
"natural" reasons of disease and malnutrition (caused by the
unconscionable Allied blockade of Europe).  (But, even taking such
explanations at face value, why did the Nazis have to uproot peaceable
Jews from communities where they were supporting themselves?)

>> Chomsky repeatedly ridicules refugee reports, which later turned out
>> to be accurate.  (A generation earlier, other leftists showered
>> similar contempt on refugee reports from Stalinist Russia, which later
>> turned out to be accurate.):
>>     [Authors approved by Chomsky] "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).  Refugees are frightened
>> and defenseless, at the mercy of alien forces.  They naturally tend to
>> report what they believe their interlocutors wish to hear.  While
>> their reports must be considered seriously, care and caution are
>> necessary.  Specifically, refugees questioned by Westerners or Thais
>> have a vested interest in reporting atrocities on the part of
>> Cambodian revolutionaries, an obvious fact that no serious reporter
>> will fail to take into account."  (N, p. 791, column 2)

>I fail to see how this is "ridiculing" refugee accounts. He's only
>saying that "great caution" must be exercised in the use of these

You have a point, of sorts.  He mainly ridicules commentators and
journalists who rely on such reports.

>> "It is interesting that a 1.2 million estimate [of the Khmer Rouge
>> death toll] is attributed by Ponchaud to the American Embassy
>> (presumably Bangkok), a completely worthless source, as the historical
>> record amply demonstrates.  The figure bears a suggestive similarity
>> to the prediction by U.S. officials at the war's end that a million
>> would die in the next year."  (N., p. 791, columns 2 to 3)

>> "The 'slaughter' by the Khmer Rouge is a Moss-'New York Times'
>> creation" (N., p. 792, column 1)

>This is so obviously taken out of context. Here's the paragraph in
>its entirety:

>In the New York Times Magazine, May 1, 1977, Robert Moss (editor 
>of a dubious offshoot of Britain's Economist called "Foreign Report" 
>which specializes in sensational rumors from the world's intelligence 
>agencies) asserts that "Cambodia's pursuit of total revolution has 
>resulted, by the official admission of its Head of State, Khieu 
>Samphan, in the slaughter of a million people." Moss informs us that 
>the source of this statement is Barron and Paul, who claim that in 
>an interview with the Italian weekly Famiglia Cristiana Khieu 
>Samphan stated that more than a million died during the war, and 
>that the population had been 7 million before the war and is now 
>5 million. Even if one places some credence in the reported
>interview nowhere in it does Khieu Samphan suggest that the million 
>postwar deaths were a result of official policies (as opposed to the 
>lag effects of a war that left large numbers ill, injured, and on 
>the verge of starvation). The "slaughter" by the Khmer Rouge is 
>a Moss-New York Times creation. 

Carwil James (whom I reposted in my 73-liner) also made this point

I don't see that it really proves anything.

Perhaps Chomsky should have said, "The confession to 'slaughter' by a
Khmer Rouge leader was a Moss-'New York Times' invention," but that is
not what he did say.  It sounds like hair-splitting.  Did a
"slaughter" in fact take place?  And, if so, would Chomsky's "Nation"
article lead the average reader to believe that accusations against
the Khmer Rouge had been wildly exaggerated?

>> From the "Dissent" article:

>> [By the end of 1978, as Cambodia's diplomatic position is in flux,
>> Prof. Chomsky appears to be thinking about reversing his appraisal,
>> but old habits die hard]:

>> Condemnations of the Khmer Rouge  m.i.g.h.t  be true, but one must
>> note "that the susceptibility of intellectuals to fabricated atrocity
>> stories has been no less notorious since World War I than their
>> apologetics for some favored state, and that skepticism is aroused in
>> this case by the many documented falsehoods." (D., p 386, columns 1 to
>> 2)

>Could you do me a favor and provide the full paragraph that this
>quote appears in as well as the preceding paragraph?

From "Dissent" (periodical), last quarter, 1978, pp 386-389

"Vietnam and Cambodia:  Comments by Noam Chomsky, Hans J. Morgenthau,
Michael Walzer

[Editor's introduction]  "Recent events in Cambodia, even if reports
exaggerate the magnitude of killings and enslavement, are so terrible
that a number of commentators have seized upon them to call into
question the validity of opposition to the American role in
Vietnam..."  [abridgement of editor's introduction]
"Do the recent events in Cambodia warrant a reconsideration of our
opposition to the Vietnam war?  Is it true that liberal and left
intellectuals have been amiss in not criticizing the Cambodian
Communist regime, and if so, why?  Or would you agree with those who
believe that it was precisely the reactionary character of the South
Vietnamese regimes supported by the U.S. that enabled the Communists
to proceed with their more efficent and massive kinds of repression?
In short, what do you think of all this?" 


   "'Do the recent events in Cambodia warrant a reconsideration of our
opposition to the Vietnam war?'  Consider the factual and moral
premises that allow the question to be seriously raised.
     "Let us assume the accuracy of the condemnations of the Khmer
Rouge (noting, however, that the susceptibility of intellectuals to
fabricated atrocity stories has been no less notorious since World War
I than their apologetics for some favored state,and that skepticism is
aroused in this case by the many documented falsehoods).  On this
assumption, should we reconsider opposition to the Vietnam war?"

[rest of article deleted]

(Perhaps in another 5 years, back issues of every periodical will be
available on the Internet.  It will offer intriguing possibilities for
discreet falsification, however, if people completely lose their habit
of keeping and checking hard-copy originals.)

>> (The remainder of the article argues that any Khmer Rouge brutality
>> was all America's fault.  This is similar to the domestic Leftie
>> argument that murderers should not be punished, because "society" made
>> them do it.  Why, then, do Leftist revolutionaries periodically
>> slaughter  u.n.r.e.s.i.s.t.i.n.g  populations, as in Stalin's
>> Collectivization and Great Purge, and in Mao's Cultural Revolution?] 

>I'm quite sure that Chomsky did not argue that the Khmer Rouge
>brutality was "all America's fault." However, I believe that he
>would rightly assign a large part of the blame on the US for the
>following reasons:

>1. From 1969 to 1973, the US dumped the equivalent of three times the
>bomb tonnage used against Japan in WWII on Cambodia killing hundreds
>of thousands of people and creating over a million refugees.

He did mention the bombing.

He spent more time denouncing the US for hammering North Vietnamese
and allied forces so hard in Vietnam that they moved their bases into
Cambodia.  (So why not condemn North Vietnam for being the first
systematically to violate Cambodian territory?  Somehow only the USA
is at fault.)

More of his commentary was spent on Vietnam than on Cambodia.

>2. The US was instrumental in undermining the Sihanouk government
>that resulted in the Lon Nol coup and the resulting civil war.

    Chomsky only mentioned Sihanouk once, in connection with Nixon's
"secret" bombings of Cambodia.  I don't believe he had much use for

    As for the bombing,  Chomsky claims, "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."  (D., p.387, column 1)  (Chomsky also
made the same point, more extensively, in his "Nation" article. [N.,
p. 172 col. 3 to p. 173 col. 2])
     Though I haven't yet been able to look up the original press
clippings, I have difficulty believing that this Sihanouk protest was
more than an aberration.  I paid reasonably close attention to
politics in 1969-1974, and took the press's Watergate-era condemnation
of the 1969-70 "secret" bombing in Cambodia at face value.  Obviously
(it would seem), if the bombings were in fact "secret," it could only
have been with Sihanouk's connivance.  He had a "bully pulpit" at the
UN to blow the lid off "secrecy" any time he chose.
     Quite possibly, as he had done before and would do again in the
future, Sihanouk was playing a double game.  He might keep the Left
happy by making some protests, and keep the US government happy by not
making them very loud.
       I suspect by 1969, Sihanouk felt less threatened and
"undermined" by the US than by the North Vietnamese and their Khmer
Rouge allies, who had annexed large border regions of Cambodia.  Nixon
may have conveyed (unrealistic) promises on the bombing's efficacy,
but Sihanouk's situation was becoming hopeless anyways.  Cambodian
society was too poor and backward to withstand the pressure of a
powerful military neighbor and its spin-off of a determined, extremely
violent Marxist insurgency.
     (The North Vietnamese could also have blown the lid off Nixon's
"Secret Bombing," but that would have raised embarrassing questions,
about how they came to know about it.)

>> [The following quote is not directly relevant to the Khmer Rouge death
>> toll, but I couldn't resist adding it]:

>> "Now we are asked whether opposition to the U.S. attack on rural South
>> Vietnam, later all Indochina, was legitimate, in the light of postwar
>> suffering and atrocities that are in large measure a result of this
>> aggression.  With comparable logic, Germans might have asked whether
>> opposition to Nazi aggression should be reconsidered after the
>> massacre of tens of thousands in France under American civil-military
>> rule"  (D., p 388, column 1) 
>>     HSC comment:  Such a German claim might indeed have some merit
>> (and relevance to Cambodia), if the US invasion of France had been
>> followed by the massacre of ten  m.i.l.l.i.o.n.  Once again, Lefties
>> are incapable of handling large numbers.  Eg the (admittedly
>> excessive) execution of one very minor spy (Ethel Rosenberg) puts the
>> US McCarthy era on the same moral plane as Stalinist Russia (20
>> million dead).

>Are you arguing that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge would have still
>come to power in Cambodia if the US had stayed out of Vietnam and
>refrained from bombing Cambodia and undermining Cambodia's goverment?

Not necessarily.  I am just saying Khmer Rouge viciousness is a
natural spinoff of their Leninist roots.  Not all Leninists are that
vicious, but some (notably Stalin) are.  It comes less from foreign
pressure (after all, Stalin was securely in power), than from a belief
they are above and beyond the judgement of bourgeois outsiders.

>> >In fact, Chomsky's big criticism of the media was that they were
>> >so willing to latch onto very questionable sources. For example,
>> >in his conclusion to the Nation article "Distortions at Fourth
>> >Hand" (June 25, 1977), Chomsky lays out his main point:

>> >     We do not pretend to know where the truth lies amidst 
>> >     these sharply conflicting assessments [on the number of
>> >     people killed under Pol Pot]; rather, we again 
>> >     want to emphasize some crucial points. What filters 
>> >     through to the American public is a seriously distorted 
>> >     version of the evidence available, emphasizing alleged 
>> >     Khmer Rouge atrocities and downplaying or ignoring the 
>> >     crucial U.S. role, direct and indirect, in the torment 
>> >     that Cambodia has suffered. Evidence that focuses on the 
>> >     American role, like the Hildebrand and Porter volume, is 
>> >     ignored, not on the basis of truthfulness or scholarship 
>> >     but because the message is unpalatable. 

Perhaps we can agree he made two points:  (1)  Western media
underplayed US misconduct in Cambodia, and (2)  Western media
exaggerated Khmer Rouge barbarity (quite likely for nefarious
     I oversimplified by focusing on part 2, but why did he bother to
bring it up?  It was quite possible to attack the US record in
Cambodia  w.i.t.h.o.u.t  defending the Khmer Rouge.  Chomsky's natural
attack instincts seem to have gotten the better of him.

>> >Furthermore, Chomsky did not deny the fact that terrible atrocities
>> >were taking place in Cambodia as his comment's on Francois Ponchaud's
>> >book Cambodge Annie Ziro (Cambodia in the Year Zero) show: "Ponchaud's 
>> >book is serious and worth reading, as distinct from much of the 
>> >commentary it has elicited. He gives a grisly account of of what
>> >refugees have reported to him about the barbarity of their treatment 
>> >at the hands of the Khmer Rouge."

>>      The thrust of Chomsky's article, however, was to reduce the Khmer
>> Rouge death toll of millions (deserving Jimmy Carter's label of
>> "world's worst violator of human rights,")  to thousands, making it
>> merely one more garden-variety Third World despotism.  (See his quote
>> above about "analyses by highly qualified specialists.")
>>       If the death toll is common by Third World standards, then there
>> is no need for world opinion to consider the political pathology
>> responsible.

>Chomsky's article does not say this. His talk of thousands was in
>reference to executions not total number killed and was based on
>estimates of Southeast Asia experts writing in respected

>     Before looking more closely at Ponchaud's book and its press 
>     treatment, we would like to point out that apart from
>     Hildebrand and Porter there are many other sources on 
>     recent events in Cambodia that have not been brought to 
>     the attention of the American reading public. Space 
>     limitations preclude a comprehensive review, but 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, and who 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. 

By itself, that would be a valid point (but see our interchange much
nearer the beginning about "analyses by highly qualified
specialists").  (And, if the "specialists" actually meant "thousands,"
as an incautious reader might assume, rather than "tens of thousands"
or "hundreds of thousands," they turned out to be wrong.]
Nevertheless, this quote must be considered for its contribution to
the overall tone of the article:  Western accusations of Khmer Rouge
barbarity were wildly exaggerated.
     Note that a year later, after even Left-wing opinion around the
world had hardened, Chomsky in his "Dissent" commentary still could
not admit massive Khmer Rouge barbarity as more than a possibility.

>>      Incidentally, bogus compassion is a tool-in-trade of many
>> revisionists:

>>   (1)  Nazi Holocaust revisionist "Richard Harwood" ends his "Did Six
>> Million Really Die?" thus:  "Jewish casualties during the Second World
>> War can only be estimated at a figure in thousands.  Surely this is
>> enough grief for the Jewish people?"

>>   (2)  Stalin Holocaust revisionist Jerry F. Hough wrote, [For] "the
>> number of deaths in the purge. . .a figure in the low hundreds of
>> thousands seems much more probable than one in the high hundreds of
>> thousands, and even George Kennan's estimate of 'tens of thousands' is
>> quite conceivable, maybe even probable.
>>       "Some persons seem instinctively to object to these figures on
>> the ground that the Great Purge was so horrible that the number of
>> deaths cannot have been so 'low.'  We must not become so insensitive
>> to the value of human life, however, that we dismiss tens of thousands
>> of deaths as insignificant."
>>     --Jerry F. Hough, "How the Soviet Union is Governed," Harvard
>> University Press, Cambridge MA, 1979;  p. 177.

>>     In each case, the revisionist professes a humanitarian horror and
>> grief even at the drastically downsized death-toll.  He quietly leaves
>> it for others to draw the conclusion that if Nazism (or Stalinism, or
>> the Khmer Rouge) did not kill any more people than did regimes
>> accepted by current world opinion, then principled anti-Nazism (or
>> anti-Communism) is mere cynicism, or hysterical over-reaction. 

>The Nazi revisionists wrote there tripe well after the
>end of WWII when mountains of documentation existed on the Nazi

Much of the documentation is ambiguous.  We have come to assume (based
on mountains of circumstantial evidence) that "final solution" was a
euphemism for extermination, but important Nazis did not put such
crude ideas down on paper.  Much of the forensic evidence went up the
chimneys of concentration-camp crematoria.
   Decisive evidence is (1) demographic--Where are the missing Jews of
Eastern Europe? and (2) survivor stories, which in other contexts
might be considered "distorted at fourth hand."

>The Nazi revisionists are given credence by no one
>in respected scholarly circles.

That might have as much to do with their politics as with their
(dubious) scholarship.  (Incidentally, Chomsky wrote favorably of one
of them.)

>Chomsky wrote his article during the Pol Pot reign, when reliable
>evidence on numbers was much more sparse,

Why?  Might it have something to do with the fact that outsiders were
not allowed into Khmer Rouge Cambodia (just as they weren't allowed
into Auschwitz and into Stalin's Ukraine during Collectivization)?
The Khmer Rouge set the tone early, by sequestering and quietly
executing five Western journalists.
    By 1977, our experience with Hitler and Stalin should have alerted
even Prof. Chomsky that when a totalitarian state completely seals
itself off from the world, it is likely because it has something
important to hide.

>and often contradictory. 
>Furthermore, he based his article on the works of many prominent 
>scholars. There is a big difference. Now, if Chomsky denied the 
>numbers that came out after the Vietnamese invasion, you could 
>compare him to the Nazi revisionists.

ie he is not a moron.  OK.


--Hugo S. Cunningham


Newsgroups: alt.anarchism,alt.society.anarchy,talk.politics.theory,
Subject: Re: Chomsky's bad faith proven:  the Khmer Rouge record
  [was  Re: Chomsky, was " If the left is understood to include
'Bolshevism,' then I would flatly dissociate myself from the left. 
Lenin was one of the greatestenemies of socialism, in my opinion,
 for reasons I've discussed.
Re: Ideologies, politics, history  (was: The Murder Sweepstakes)
From: (Hugo S. Cunningham)
Date: Mon, 23 Sep 1996 04:43:41 GMT (Keith) wrote:

>Hugo S. Cunningham ( wrote:
>> (Keith) wrote:

>> [deleted]

>> >Hugo S. Cunningham ( wrote:

>> [deleted]

>> >> Not really true.  Chomsky consistently favors the enemies of the West,
>> >> most likely because his version of Anarcho-Leftism is far closer to
>> >> Communism than to America's mixed economy.

>> >Would you like to provide some citations from Chomsky's writings that
>> >support this conclusion? Readers should note that Hugo has not quoted
>> >a single sentence of Chomsky to prove any of his assertions.

My posting above talks about the "economy" rather than press laws and
civil liberties.  I was assuming that Chomsky, like everyone else on
the radical left, is anti-capitalist.  Am I wrong?

>> If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck,
>> chances are it is a duck.  Compile a long-term list of the regimes and
>> movements Chomsky defends and the ones he attacks, and a rather
>> obvious pattern emerges.
>>     Historical note:  In Russia's civil war (1917-21),
>> Anarcho-Leftists (eg Kronstadt sailors, Makhno) supported the
>> Communists against both parliamentarians and "White" generals.  After
>> the Communist victory, the Anarcho-Left started to oppose them, but
>> were easily put down.

>>     As a  world-renowned linguist, Prof. Chomsky is a master of
>> ambiguity and deniability.  For that reason, the Khmer Rouge record is
>> especially worth treasuring.

>Talk of ducks does not answer my question. I asked if you could support
>your assertion by citations to Chomsky's writings. You did not provide
>a single citation, you only repeated your assertion.

[later stuff deleted.  Much of it appears in my companion 419-line

I confess that I do not follow Chomsky regularly, except as he
occasionally pops up "in my face" with a well-publicized defense of
some new egregious tyrant, eg Saddam Hussein (1990).  (History will
condemn George Bush for failing to support the rising of the Shi'a and
Kurds against Saddam ["There is no substitute for victory!"], but that
is for some other newsgroup.)

[Incidentally, admirers of Prof. Chomsky might avoid cross-posting
here in alt.politics.libertarian, to avoid tangles with disreputable
motor-cycle gangs.  But perhaps someone else was responsible for the

One Christmas, a friend gave me Chomsky's collection of essays "Deterring Democracy." I scribbled some 30 pages of generally unfavorable margin notes in it, and then was embarrassed to learn that he had been hoping to borrow it back from me. I handed it over with trepidation. It would be an exaggeration to say he no longer speaks to me, but, let's say he doesn't speak to me about Chomsky. Oh well... --Hugo S. Cunningham

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