the hollow PR campaign...,
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the hollow khmer-chomsky:
the brief of it:
The Hypocrasy 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 amazon.com, AtC was published in October 1979.
When, exactly, did Kiernan publish his findings? It just so happens that Sophal Ear discusses this same
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 available until after AtC had already been sent to the publisher for print.
They were printed almost simultaneously.
Finally, that all the facts were not in by early 1979 is made clear by these author's own assertions:
Bruce Sharp cites Sophal Ear's argument in
chapter four  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 writers fall upon eachothers' footnotes.
:: posted by buermann @ 2003-12-02 02:29:35 CST |
It's nice to know that someone has taken the time to read what I've written ("Averaging Wrong Answers," www.mekong.net/cambodia/chomsky.htm). Of course, it's a little less gratifying when the reader describes it as an "absurdity."
In his response to my article, Josh Buermann seeks to convince his readers that my criticisms of Chomsky are based mainly on the fact that Chomsky doesn't own a time machine:
"To discredit a passage from a book published in October of 1979, for example, [Sharp] 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 published in October of 1979. This pattern is repeated again with respect to Shane Tarr and throughout much of the rest of the work when describing facts and research that C&H would have been unaware of from 1975 to 1979.
"This isn't the 'selective editing' that Sharp accuses Chomksy of, this is living in a timewarp."
Mr. Buermann's argument is that it is unreasonble to refute what Chomsky wrote in the late Seventies on the basis of what is known today: "We would expect that the point of Sharp's discussion is what was known at the time the work was written."
What I find odd about this contention is that it is refuted not only by Chomsky's critics: it is also refuted by Chomsky himself.
Chomsky and Herman's 1977 _Nation_ article ("Distortions at Fourth Hand") and their 1979 book _After the Cataclysm_ are predicated on the idea that there was a massive amount of negative media coverage directed at the Khmer Rouge. Chomsky's detractors claim that he was supporting the Khmer Rouge; his defenders claim that he was simply saying there was no way of knowing the truth. Both_ of these claims, however, accept the same underlying supposition: that is, the Khmer Rouge were being widely described as murderous, vile monsters. Chomsky and Herman state as much explicitly in _After the Cataclysm_:
"While all of the countries of Indochina have been subjected to endless denunciations in the West for their 'loathsome' qualities and unaccountable failure to find humane solutions to their problems, Cambodia was a particular target of abuse. In fact, it became virtually a matter of dogma in the West that the regime was the very incarnation of evil with no redeeming qualities, and that the handful of demonic creatures who had somehow taken over the country were systematically massacring and starving the population."
It seems odd, then, that Mr. Buermann criticizes my article for the lack of contemporary news articles, given that Chomsky himself claims that the media's denunciations of the Khmer Rouge were "endless."
Chomsky's argument is that these accounts should not be trusted, and he cites a handful of conflicting accounts as evidence that the situation in Cambodia was somehow unclear. The question to be settled, then, is simple: were the denunciations of the Khmer Rouge accurate, or not?
Mr. Buermann, like Chomsky, seeks to convince his readers that the nature of the Khmer Rouge was entirely unclear. To bolster his case, Mr. Buermann he notes that Sophal Ear "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_."
In Mr. Buermann's argument, the distinction between evidence and incontrovertible evidence becomes lost. If a hundred refugees tell you that they have heard about massacres, that is evidence. If a thousand refugees tell you that they have witnessed massacres firsthand, and they show you fields littered with human skulls, that is incontrovertible evidence. In the case of Cambodia, it was after the Vietnamese invasion that the evidence became irrefutable.
Why do I cite books, articles, and interviews that took place after the publication of _After the Cataclysm_? The answer should be obvious: _Because they are definitive._
If Shane Tarr tells us that the evacuation of Phnom Penh was a well-organized mission of mercy, and Francois Ponchaud tells us that it was a brutal forced march, all we have are two conflicting accounts. Examining additional evidence will enable us to determine which witness was truthful.
An open question, however, is this: exactly how much evidence was available in 1977? Or in 1979? Exactly how many observers claimed that Cambodia was locked in the throes of disaster, and how many claimed that the country was being heroicly rebuilt by brave revolutionaries? Was Chomsky accurately reflecting the different perceptions of the revolution?
To answer that, let's look at a few of the names Mr. Buermann cites specifically. We'll begin with Serge Thion, who, in the passage from Chomsky and Herman Mr. Buermann quotes, is described as one of the observers "long familiar with Cambodia." What did Thion have to say about the Khmer Rouge?
In an article which is available on the web (http://www.abbc.com/totus/CGCF/file12thion77.html), which was originally published in the Paris daily _Libération_, on March 7, 1977, Thion wrote:
"We know that the country is in the hands of a revolutionary anonymous organization (Angkar), that the economy seems to be based on total collectivization, that more than half of the population has been chased from the cities and is treated like a slavish mass, exploited without limits, hungry and terrorized, that the Organization is systematically destroying all those who, one way or the other, had anything to do with the former regime."
Thion could, I think, be fairly described as a radical leftist. He did not, however, seek o dispute what was happening in Cambodia: he wrote that "doubts are unfortunately not possible" about whether or not the Khmer Rouge were responsible for a "blind massacre" with a death toll "in the tens, or possibly hundreds, of thousands."
This, it should be noted, is in an article that was published more than three months before "Distortions at Fourth Hand."
What about Olle Tolgraven? In the Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1975, we find a brief mention of Tolgraven:
"A Swedish journalist, Olle Tolgraven of Swedish Broadcasting, said he did not believe there had been wholesale executions. But he said there was evidence the Khmer Rouge had shot people who refused to leave their homes in a mass evacuation ordered the first day of the takeover. This was corroborated by others. One Cambodian woman said many old people died on the trek out of the City 'because it was too hard for them to walk.'" (This citation comes from James Donald, who despises Chomsky. I disagree with Donald far more often than I agree, and he has repeatedly called me a liar and suggested that I share ideas with Pol Pot. But what the hell... credit where credit is due.)
What about Richard Boyle? As I noted in my article, at least one of Boyle's claims can be refuted simply by reading Chomsky and Herman's own footnotes: Boyle claimed that none of the 1100 people evacuated from the French Embassy ever witnessed any bodies abandoned on the roadside. Yet Chomsky and Herman note that Sidney Schanberg in fact _did_ report seeing bodies on the road leading out of Phnom Penh.
And what about Shane Tarr? Here again Mr. Buermann suggests that I'm being unfair to Chomsky, dismissing Tarr's 1975 remarks on the basis of the description of Tarr in Jon Swain's 1995 memoir. Perhaps Mr. Buermann should have read _After the Cataclysm_: if he had, he would have noticed (as I pointed out in my article) that Chomsky and Herman themselves told us that journalists in the Embassy despised Tarr. In fact, they cited Swain specifically:
"He writes that Shane Tarr is so contemptible that 'we -- who had abandoned our Cambodian friends -- do not wish to pass the time of day' with him. 'He is full of nauseating revolutionary rhetoric' and he and his wife 'fraternise with the Khmer Rouge guards over the walls.'" (_After the Cataclysm_, p. 236).
But Chomsky and Herman still cannot fathom "why the eyewitness report of Chou Meng and Shane Tarr does not enter the record, as shaped by the selective hand of the media and mainstream scholarship." They lament the fact that "Swain and Schanberg present their view in the London _Sunday Times_ and _New York Times_; the Tarrs and Boyle give their conflicting account in _News From Kampuchea_ (international circulation 500) and the left wing New York _Guardian_, also with a tiny reading public." (p. 239).
Since the passage Chomsky and Herman cite (apparently from the London _Sunday Times_, May 11, 1975) is word-for-word identical to the passage I cited from Swain's memoir, it would seem that Mr. Buermann's "Timewarp Gun by Milton Bradley" metaphor is a bit overwrought.
In any case, there is little to be gained by examining the partisan rants of "observers" like Tarr. It would be more worthwhile to examine the comments of another, more objective commentator mentioned by Buermann: specifically, William Shawcross. What did Shawcross have to say about the Khmer Rouge? Writing in the April 6, 1978 issue of the New York Review of Books, he noted that:
"With a few exceptions the stories which have emerged from Cambodia in the past two years have confirmed the impression, given by the early refugees, of a vast and somber work camp where toil is unending, rewards are nonexistent, families are separated, and murder is a constantly used tool of social discipline. Well before Hanoi published similar assessments, Democratic Kampuchea seemed to many in the West a uniquely atrocious experiment in human engineering conducted, in Hanoi's words, by 'infantile communists' who pursued 'a consistent policy of national hatred' and were 'deliberately turning young Kampucheans into medieval butchers' to indulge in 'savage repressions' and 'bloody massacres.'"
Shawcross ended the article by relaying the observations of some of the few foreigners who were allowed inside Cambodia:
"When three Scandinavian ambassadors to Peking returned from a visit to Kampuchea last month they said it was only the young they saw in the empty capital, only young people working the fields outside. They refused 'to draw any conclusions on what has happened to the old,' but one of them said of Kampuchea today, 'It was like an absurd film. It was like a nightmare. It is difficult to believe that it is true.'  But even more difficult to deny."
As it turns out, Chomsky and Herman allude to the accounts of the Scandinavian diplomats. But they do not tell us that the diplomats described what they saw as "absurd" or "like a nightmare." Instead, they tell us only that "A Reuters report from Peking on their trip appeared in the _Washington Post_ and in the _New York Times_, with a second-hand account of what they are said to have told 'Nordic correspondents' on their return to Peking. There seems to have been no effort to pursue the matter further. This single second-hand report is uninformative. The Danish Ambassador is quoted as saying that Phnom Penh resembled a 'ghost town' (a comment since widely circulated) and the Swedish Ambassador as having said that more land was under cultivation than in 1976 and that 'traces of the 1970-1975 war were still considerable' though they have decreased. 'There were no signs of starvation.' Little else was reported."
If one wishes to discuss the delegation's observations, surely the Ambassador's comment that "It was like a nightmare" is at least as worthy of mention as his remark that "There were no signs of starvation."
I'm not sure what it would take to dispel Mr. Buermann's notion that the nature of the Khmer Rouge was unclear. Again, the premise of Chomsky and Herman's work was that there was an overwhelming amount of negative media coverage of the Khmer Rouge. They seem to suggest that we should focus more of our attention on the handful of accounts which were not negative. The evidence which has come to light since the overthrow of the regime, however, shows unequivocably which accounts were accurate.
Mr. Buermann also criticizes what he claims is an "inaccurate allegation" for my remark that that Chomksy, in 1977 correspondance to Francois Ponchaud, described 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 are 'serious and worth reading'."
It is certainly not obvious to me that this is what Chomsky meant, and given Ponchaud's response, it clearly wasn't obvious to Ponchaud, either. The claim that Chomsky was referring to the "lies" of Barron and Paul ignores the fact that Barron and Paul's book was based primarily on the reports of the refugees. Exactly what "lies" are we talking about? The greatest flaw of Barron and Paul's book is that it ignores the US role in Cambodia's downfall. That's an appalling omission, but it isn't a lie. As I noted in the article, although I think Barron and Paul's book is far from perfect, its description of the general conditions under the Khmer Rouge is in fact reasonably accurate.
Mr. Buermann also states that Chomsky and Herman "...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'."
I did not say anything about finding this passage "distressing." I simply noted that the tone of the book is the same as the tone of "Distortions at Fourth Hand." Mr. Buermann seem to be implying that I'm "distressing" over nothing but style; but there are more substantive matters at stake here. For instance, as I pointed out in the paragraph immediately following the one quoted above, Chomsky and Herman made a blatantly false claim about what Porter and Hildebrand had actually written: They stated that Hildebrand and Porter's book "assume[d] substantial atrocities and thousands or more killed." Porter and Hildebrand said no such thing.
Similarly, Mr. Buermann ignores a few other items that have nothing to do with "tone," such as Chomsky's complete reversal on the point of the reliability of State Department sources. (First C&H denigrated Barron and Paul's reliance on these sources; later, Chomsky claimed that these sources were in fact the "most knowledgeable source," and that he and Herman were the only commentators to rely on these sources. Nor does he comment on Chomsky's ridiculous claim that _Ponchaud_ was more skeptical of the refugee reports than Chomsky and Herman. Nor does Mr. Buermann comment on Chomsky's demonstrably false claims regarding the CIA's "Demographic Catastrophe" study.
Perhaps I should also point out that Mr. Buermann does not inform his readers that there are some of Chomsky's observations with which I am in complete agreement: specifically, the consequences of the 1970 coup and the U.S. invasion. Instead, Mr. Buermann simply lumps my article together with one by someone named Keith Windschuttle, and declares that we are "tripping over each other's footnotes."
Mr. Buermann seems confused that I described some of Chomsky and Herman's sophistry as "dubious," and suggests that I "never actually return" to exactly what it is that I find dubious. I thought it would be apparent from my article, but since it evidently wasn't, a few of the "dubious" notions in _After the Cataclysm_ would include the claim that the evacuation of Phnom Penh was undertaken for humanitarian reasons, the claim that the evacuation actually saved lives, the claim that Khmer Rouge Cambodia was similar to France after liberation, the claim that the Khmer Rouge placed a strong emphasis on family life, the claim that the Khmer Rouge were concerned about equality... do I really need to go on?
Their suggestion that the dams and canals built by the Khmer Rouge were aiding in the production of rice would be another example. Here again, Mr. Buermann seems to think that it is unfair to criticize Chomsky and Herman for accepting at face value the claims made by the regime's supporters. Is it fair to cite Shawcross and Becker's descriptions of the disasters brought about by these projects, when Becker and Shawcross could see, firsthand, evidence that was unavailable to Chomsky? Maybe a better question is this: if "a primitivist, luddite revolution" (to use Mr. Buermann's own description) executes its teachers, engineers, and technicians, what is the likelihood that its dams and canals will _not_ be disasters?
There is, of course, no question at this point that the entire regime was a disaster. But how bad of a disaster? Mr. Buermann provides a wide range, suggesting a toll of "somewhere between 750,000 and 2,000,000 Cambodian deaths." Current evidence, however, demonstrates that the figure of 750,000 is implausibly low. Craig Etcheson, formerly the head of Yale's Cambodia Genocide Project, estimates the death toll as roughly 2.2 million; and as of 1999, the Documentation Center of Cambodia had located more than 20,000 mass graves, containing more than 1.18 million remains described as "victims of execution."
On the broader topic of the US role in Indochina, Mr. Buermann notes that I do not spend any time discussing whether or not the US opposition the war should have been reconsidered in the wake of the disasters of the Khmer Rouge. He is right: I don't spend any time discussing this, because I find the question completely absurd. In case it is not obvious from what I have written (both in the Chomsky article and elsewhere), I will spell it out quite clearly: I think the US involvement in Southeast Asia was stupid, brutal, and disastrous. (I fear that this will be the case with regard to Iraq; last March, I wrote a brief essay on this topic (http://www.veryrandom.com/iraq.htm), and I have still seen nothing to lead me to alter my opinion.)
Regarding East Timor: I agree that the coverage of events in East Timor was horribly inadequate. (I believe my exact description was "appalling paucity.") I've also noted that Chomsky deserves great credit for publicizing events there. But let's remember one thing: as you've pointed out, Chomsky's concern is "propaganda." If we are going to praise him when his comments have the altogether unintentional effect of publicizing atrocities in East Timor, then we should also blame when his comments have the unintentional effect of denigrating atrocities in Cambodia.
To claim that East Timor would naturally have been of equal interest to the American public, one must also claim that the US role in Indochina -- the direct involvment of hundreds of thousands of American troops, over fifty thousand of American deaths, billions of dollars of direct expenditures, and a painful national debate that lasted roughly 15 years -- should not have had any effect on the level of interest among US readers.
If we want to determine whether or not Chomsky's propaganda theories are valid, we should examine not only cases where it seems superfically true (i.e, Cambodia and East Timor) but also cases where it seems superficially false (i.e., Mozambique and East Timor) (Charles Kalina provides a quick overview at
On another point, Mr. Buermann criticizes my suggestion that Chomsky promotes, in effect, the "Party Line," and that he attempts to restrict the grounds of a debate to his own terms. As an example, I cited Chomsky's contention that Vietnam-era "doves" could only be called "doves" if they opposed the war for precisely the same reasons as Chomsky. Mr. Buermann rejects my comment outright: "[T]he obvious problem with Sharp's argument is that the 'doves' 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 if we think being pro-war precludes one from being anti-war."
Huh? I can't figure out what Mr. Buermann means at all, so I'll simply try to explain what _I_ mean. When I say "dove," I mean someone who is opposed to war. And when someone is pro-war, they cannot, by definition, be anti-war. And when someone is anti-war, they cannot, by definition, be pro-war. It's very simple: you are either for a war, or you are against it. The _reason_ you are against it is irrelevant.
Finally, to address Mr. Buermann's final point, am I a propagandist? Of course I have an opinion on this topic, and I do not hesitate to make that known. But does merely having an opinion make one a propagandist? I try to present facts that I believe are relevant, and I try to present opposing viewpoints accurately. Do I succeed? I'm sure there are times when I fail. So if I criticize someone else for a lack of objectivity, is it just a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Readers can decide for themselves.
posted by BruceSharp
@ 2003-12-03 14:39:02 | link
Hi Bruce, thanks for the reply and welcome.
First of all, criticizing somebody for focusing on the thesis of their argument, as you do, is by itself an absurdity. C&H, as everybody acknowledges, weren't experts on Cambodia. They are, so far as the direction of their research is concerned and Herman's credentials go, experts on Western institutions.
To clarify your claims about the premise of the work, at least as of 1977, was that what coverage there was ("the recent spate") in the American media was by and large one-sided and focused on only the worst depictions of KR barbarity, leaving contrary evidence for rot without explanation and santizing those depictions of any reference to the US genocide in Cambodia, though the primary source for what Lacoture called an "auto-genocide" stressed the US involvement and impact on the post-war situation, as did numerous other well-established sources.
There was a communist to blame for it afterall, and maybe another war to be had, as predictions of this kind of barbarity were used to justify the war in the first place - hence Nixon's mildly exaggerated claims that Hanoi was responsible for 500,000 deaths during the collectivization campaign in 1955, when the original sources and subsequent reviews put the figures closer to 15,000 - a number similar to those killed by Diem's campaign of anti-communist repression in the South a year later.
If you want their depiction of events after the definitive evidence was in they discuss it at length in Manufacturing Consent (1988), which I do have, and where they refrain from focusing on results of the definitive evidence, mentioning it in relative passing, but focus instead on the performance of the media, just as they did in 1977 and 1979. Are they still trying to hide the atrocities? They cite the most authoritative sources they find and then call those sources serious, with perhaps a few criticisms, and then focus on the media's distortion of the content of those sources: I don't see the overarching problem here.
In terms of that premise, consider how much coverage and editorial space was dedicated to a "US genocide in Indochina", well established and known fully by the press at the time - members of which, afterall, were by and large against the campaign. Nobody in the press dared call it what it was - who was really covering up and apologizing for atrocity?
Attempting to debunk C&H's argument by focusing on evidence and sources that were established after their argument was made is, likewise, obviously an absurdity.
"It seems odd, then, that Mr. Buermann criticizes my article for the lack of contemporary news articles, given that Chomsky himself claims that the media's denunciations of the Khmer Rouge were 'endless.'"
"the recent spate", you mean.
The requirement, thusly, would be to do exactly what Chomsky and Herman did: go through the available resources at the time and come up with a more definitive result than C&H, refuting C&H's criticism of the available resources, where necessary, in the process. C&H did not carelessly cast aside Ponchaud's refugee testimonial, nor argue that they "should not be trusted": the "extreme unreliability of refugee reports" follows from "repeated discoveries that massacre reports were false" and considerations of the expectations of a refugee entering a hostile state. Refugee accounts of similar massacres should thusly "be considered seriously, care and caution are necessary", to validate and verify what they say, as Kiernan did over the course of 1979.
"He cites a handful of conflict accounts"
The three principle books being reviewed, themselves, conflict with eachother, regarding the scale and extent of the violence during the revolution and the impact of the US bombing. Ponchaud, the book which is "worth reading" (no such endorsement is given for H&P) doesn't make estimates of the number killed under the KR, and those you site in this response who were referring to Ponchaud make estimates factors of ten lower than the millions reported in the press.
Furthermore, the accounts as cited in DaFH - which is a relatively short article - are better than a mere handful, among which the only source of serious evidence for the story appears to be Ponchaud:
US Media, purged of references to US involvement, or posturing against its postwar affects:
- NYT, 1976 - 100 words on buried UN report that humans pull plows in Laos.
- WSJ, 1976 - Editorial, "contemptuous" dismissal of H&P.
- WSJ, 1976 - Editorial, US responsibility for postwar difficulties merely "the politics of guilt."
- WP, 1977 - Front page, long-debunked photos of forced-labor in Cambodia, w/ no retraction.
- Reader's Digest - B&P
- WP - Front page, B&P
- TV Guide, 1977 - B&P
- NYRB, 1977 - Lacouture, review of Ponchauds' 'Year Zero', describing KR as "auto-genocide" based testimonial of the same.
- UPI, Boston Globe, 1977 - "1.2 million persons have been killed or have died as a result of the Communist regime" since 1975, unsourced.
- NYT Magazine, 1977 - Moss, "the official admission of its Head of State, Khieu Samphan, in the slaughter of a million people", via B&P, based off a claim made by a Thai reporter.
- CSM, Jan 26th, 1977 - Editorial on B&P, "one of the most brutal and concentrated onslaughts in history"
- CSM, ? 1977 - Another editorial, "the loss of life as high as 2 million people", no source cited.
- NYT, 1977 - Andelman, "the purges that took hundreds of thousands of lives", unsourced.
1975 - From Cambodia, claiming they didn't see corpses, etc
- WP, Cazauk "not a single corpse was seen along our evacuation route"
- NYT, Shanberg, "none of this will apparently bear any resemblance to the mass executions ... predicted by Westerners,"
- Pacific News - Richard Boyle
- Richard Dudman, Serge Thion, J.C. Pomonti, Charles Meyer?
- Agence France-Presse, Bangkok; NYT, 1975 - "Phnom Penh had only eight days worth of rice on hand"
- NYT, 1975 - six days worth of rice, via U.S. AID officials
Elsewhere, generally conflicting w/ massacre accounts and the depiction by first list of US media:
- Asia, 1977 - H&P "well-recieved" book review.
- Somewhere in Sweden, 1975 - Olle Tolgraven
- Somewhere, 1975 - Father Jacques Engelmann
- Economist - Letter by eye-witness Cambodia economist W.J.Sampson.
- Far Eastern Economic Review
- Melbourne Journal of Politics
- Le Monde, 1976 - Ponchaud
"The question to be settled, then, is simple: were the denunciations of the Khmer Rouge accurate, or not?"
What does this answer?
The final truth of any denunciation would have nothing to do with the accuracy of C&H or the evidence used for the basis of denunciations at the time.
Furthermore, which denunciations? Barron and Paul's denunciation clearly misrepresented Ponchaud in attributing him as the source of the quote that "people expelled from the cities 'are no longer needed, and local chiefs are free to dispose of them as they please'", but in hindsight this misrepresentation probably ends up closer to the truth than what Ponchaud reported, for reasons that are the opposite of honest scholarship.
What about C&H's "denunciations"? By your criteria any questioning of a denunciation must be evidence of fault, so what about what they leave uncontested: "brutal revenge killings", "the extraordinary brutality on both sides", what about what they openly endorse - the seriousness of Ponchaud's work, etc?
"Mr. Buermann, like Chomsky, seeks to convince his readers that the nature of the Khmer Rouge was entirely unclear."
What was unclear was the scale of KR instigated terror, not that it existed. Your sources at the time, which you seem to think prove Chomsky an apologist, do not agree with the final outcomes. Even B&P, C&H point out, claim figures of "100,000 or more" executions, not the millions your numbers from the CGI agree, and based their numbers party on the erroneous allegation that virtually everyone leaving the capital reported seeing signs of massacre. Ponchaud doesn't appear to make estimates, and H&P in 1976 write a positive, hopeful account partly based off official KR sources - which isn't a strange practice: if you're looking for information on agricultural production in the United States would you go ask Hanaoi first? Why, at the time, should the claims of official KR sources have been considered unworthy of any mention?
"In Mr. Buermann's argument, the distinction between evidence and incontrovertible evidence becomes lost."
And you're missing the point: distinguishing between accurate and inaccurate evidence is only easy after the incontrovertible evidence is in.
"In the case of Cambodia, it was after the Vietnamese invasion that the evidence became irrefutable."
Right, so what's questionable about questioning non-irrefutable evidence? Would there be any point in questioning the evidence that hadn't been presented to the public when discussing what evidence had been presented to the public?
An open question, however, is this: exactly how much evidence was available in 1977? Or in 1979? Exactly how many
observers claimed that Cambodia was locked in the throes of disaster, and how many claimed that the country was being
heroicly rebuilt by brave revolutionaries? Was Chomsky accurately reflecting the different perceptions of the
This would, in fact, be more to the point.
Thion bases his criticism on the book by Ponchaud (Debre, his other source, apparently discusses events through '75), which C&H considered "serious" and "worth reading", and to this day consider one of the best resources on the topic. Thion also gives, based on Ponchaud's account, a wide range of figures ("tens, or possibly hundreds, of thousands") far below the millions that are presented to the public - which are santized of any reference to the American campaign, something Thion stresses, that had to have continued taking a toll throughout the KR period from ordinance, starvation, etc., and the ordinance continues to take a toll today from the last I heard. Your quote from Olle Tolgraven, likewise, questions the picture presented in the American press.
The inaccuracy of Boyle's claims, proven by citation of the disagreement of one out of 1100 foreign nationals, and C&H's keeping references to his claims in AtC is worth noting, I honestly missed that. How do we get from that mistake to C&H "attempting to discredit the common perception of the evacuation as a brutal exercise" when all they're attempting to discredit is the idea that what is being presented in the press - millions of deaths or outright executions, depending - wasn't based on a solid and complete reckoning of the evidence?
If the passage regarding Tarr is from the Sunday Times in 1975 then I would suggest you cite it as such, it would be more relevant to your thesis. Your 1978 quote from Shawcross says that the reports "confirm the impression" of intense brutality, which C&H more or less repeat in AtC, but makes no mention of the millions of executed or dead as a result of KR policy that were in the press. It would still be more relevant to your essay than something written in the late 80s. You might make it clear what reports he's referencing, though, as it sounds like he's referring, as others, to Ponchaud's work. The Hanoi assessments he references, and their relevant treatment if any from C&H in AtC, likewise, would be directly relevant to the idea that C&H disregarded basic evidence regarding Cambodia, assuming they back up the press' account of millions dead.
The Scandinavian's report that Phnom Penh was empty in 1977 makes perfect sense if you accept what was then an indisputable fact: the city was evacuated in 1975. Whether or not C&H are being disingenous about the reports in the WP and NYT would depend partly on what the Reuters report said: if it included the nightmare quote, or if Shawcross had personally "persued the matter further" it would seem to be clear evidence of a mistake that is worth noting.
"complete reversal the point of the reliability of State Department sources"
Do I need to reprint their criticism of B&P in DaFH here? They criticize the State Department sources for the "point of view", not their reports - which of course they hadn't seen and couldn't double check because B&P only cite "informal briefings" - and it's a point of view that is clearly erroneous. They then lambast B&P for their claim that during the evacuation "virtually everybody saw the consequences of [summary executions] in the form of the corpses of men, women and children rapidly bloating and rotting in the hot sun" - whereas you've found one person that corroberates that story, whereas B&P argue that a journalist that rejects that story is cited by B&P as corroberating it.
I'm familiar that they rely later on intelligence reports by an SDO named Twining, whom you don't mention, and they claim Twining made a more balanced assessment of the facts at the time than the press did, including the caution with which one should use refugee testimony before drawing conclusions. Now, when you take up the matter of State Department sources you discuss rice supplies, and attempt to discredit the pre-1980 views of the State Department with a long quote from a book written in 1998 - with all due respect that's simply not logical. You are also, apparenly, claiming the State Department should be counted among "the regime's supporters", which I find confusing.
Such is why there are whole hosts of things I did not comment on in your essay: I've only got so much free time, and shoveling through a bunch of arguments that make no sense to discover a few interesting items seems to be more work that it's worth. The pattern and substance of your argument is that sources after 1980 reveal that the estimates based of Ponchaud's work were too low, and therefore anybody, including Chomsky, who did not make estimates of millions at the time were thus Khmer Rouge apologists of some sort. "Buermann does not inform his readers that there are some of Chomsky's observations with which I am in complete agreement"
I'd be happy to include a note pertaining to your sympathies.
"Instead, Mr. Buermann simply lumps my article together with one by someone named Keith Windschuttle, and declares that we are 'tripping over each other's footnotes.'"
Windschuttle trips over his own shoelaces and then hangs himself by them. You openly reference Sophal, and he seems to disagree with what your conclusions throughout the essay seem to say. Perhaps I misunderstand what it is you're trying to argue, but this note doesn't help me clarify it. Others cite you as proof that Chomsky was 'carrying water for Pol-Pot', to paraphrase DeLong, which, for reasons already beaten over, doesn't hold much water when most of you're contrary sources to C&H's doubts are written after 1984.
"Current evidence, however, demonstrates that the figure of 750,000 is implausibly low."
I'm hardly in a position to argue this, and simply use the standard numbers cited elsewhere, which from what I understand are Vickery and Kiernan's numbers and their continued disagreements over them, etc, as per Vickery's disagreements with the preliminary estimates of the CGI results you quote. And out of curiousity, how does the CGI differentiate KR victims versus from, say, US bombing victims, victims of atrocity under LN, the civil war, the US supported attacks on Cambodians by Pol Pot after 1979, etc? Or does the legislation signing the CGI into law preclude any such distinctions from being made, being as it limits the scope of the study soley to the KR period?
Furthermore, the foremost scholars on this topic apparently continue to disagree over the numbers, are you saying that you pretend to know the truth of which claims are most accurate?
"his comments have the altogether unintentional effect of publicizing atrocities in East Timor"
Chomsky was involved in actively promoting the cause in East Timor and did more than just study the media's response, but detailed other institution's respones - such as the United States Government, Australia, etc. - as well, and was active in promoting the issue once the facts were in and nobody really responded. His publicizing of the atrocities in East Timor has been very intentional. With regard to the Khmer Rouge: numerous, qualified Western scholars, supported with funding from the US government in some cases - the CGI being one obvious example - have undertaken to uncover evidence of some of the barbarous crimes that took place in Cambodia. Your comments seem to suggest that you think Chomsky was somehow trying to discredit and discourage any future work on the KR, which is absurd. His notes of scorn are hauled at the media and Baron & Pauls openly dishonest account. He gave Ponchaud firm endorsements, "very serious", "worth reading", etc., with some criticism on areas that needed more work amid a few attempts to independently verify Ponchaud's account, per consistency with regard to quotes, etc., as is standard procedure when reviewing sources.
Last but not least: the problem with your citation of Chomsky's contention about 'doves' is that he doesn't make the contention you claim he does. When Chomsky talks about 'doves' with regard to the Vietnam war he's talking about officials in the Whitehouse who had some reservations about the strategy of bombing to death vast numbers of innocent civillians, or other barbarous policies - the press referred to them as the 'doves' but they never actually questioned the war, only how it was waged. When you, Bruce Sharp, say "dove" and mean "someone who is opposed to war", you aren't talking about the same meaning as Chomsky.
posted by buermann
@ 2003-12-04 16:20:26 | link
Hi Josh --
Thanks for the reply. I particularly appreciate that that you permit feedback on your site.
Regarding your comment that three books discussed in DaFH conflict with each other, I would point out that it was only Hildebrand and Porter's book that conflicted with the other two. I will never understand why anyone would have found their depiction of the Khmer Rouge regime the least bit persuasive. As I have noted previously, there is not even a single sentence critical of the Khmer Rouge in the entire book. I do not know how anyone could describe it as anything other than propaganda.
As far as the other sources you list in DaFH, I'll address the ones with which I am familiar, and which we have not already discussed:
1. NYT, 1976 - 100 words on buried UN report that humans pull plows in Laos.
This does not pertain to Cambodia.
2. WSJ, 1976 - Editorial, "contemptuous" dismissal of H&P.
Chomsky's claim was that this article "dismissed contemptuously the very idea that the Khmer Rouge could play a constructive role, as well as the notion that the United States had a major hand in the destruction, death, and turmoil of wartime and postwar Cambodia." But the article's sole reference to the U.S. role is to summarize Porter and Hildebrand's assertion that press coverage of the evacuation was "distorted by the U.S. government... to draw attention away from its own crimes in bombing the rural population." There is nothing in the article that can even remotely be construed as "dismissing" the American role in Cambodia's agony.
3. WP, 1977 - Front page, long-debunked photos of forced-labor in Cambodia, w/ no retraction.
The Washington Post article (April 8, 1977) states quite clearly: "The pictures appear to be genuine but the possibility cannot be totally excluded that they were planted for propaganda purposes by an anti-Khmer Rouge group." It's also worth noting that the "debunking" of these photos was done by the Indochina Resource Center. Stephen Denney, an archivist for the Indochina Center at the U.C. Berkeley, put it quite well: there was, he noted, "a kind of irony when a publication carrying propaganda photos of smiling Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge lambasts mainstream media for carrying (apparently) fake photos of people being mistreated by the Khmer Rouge."
4. CSM, Jan 26th, 1977 - Editorial on B&P, "one of the most brutal and concentrated onslaughts in history"
I have not seen these articles, but what you quote above is entirely accurate: the Khmer Rouge regime _was_ one of the most brutal and concentrated onslaughts in history.
5. NYT, Shanberg, "none of this will apparently bear any resemblance to the mass executions ... predicted by Westerners,"
Chomsky and Herman cite Schanberg in order to refute Barron and Paul's comment that "virtually everybody saw the consequences of [summary executions] in the form of corpses of men, women, and children rapidly bloating and rotting in the sun." Chomsky and Herman quote Schanberg's NYT report (May 9, 1975) this way:
"'[T]here have been unconfirmed reports of executions of senior military and civilian officials... But none of this will apparently bear any resemblance to the mass executions that had been predicted by Westerners,' and that 'Here and there were bodies, but it was difficult to tell if they were people who had succumbed to the hardships of the march or simply civilians and soldiers killed in the last battles.'"
Thus Chomsky and Herman seem to be implying that Schanberg's article contradicts Barron and Paul's description. I don't believe that it does. Schanberg writes: "The foreigners who for various reasons came in later carried stories, some of them eyewitness accounts, of such things as civilian bodies along the roads leading out of the city -- people who had apparently died of illness or exhaustion on the march."
We should also examine Schanberg's comments on the evacuation in greater detail:
"A foreign doctor offered this explanation for the expulsion of the sick and wounded from the hospital: 'They could not cope with all the patients -- they do not have the doctors -- so they apparently decided to throw them all out and blame any deaths on the old regime. That way they could start from scratch medically.
"Some Western observers considered that the exodus approached genocide. One of them, watching from his refuge in the French Embassy compound, said, 'They are crazy! This is pure and simple genocide. They will kill more people this way than if there had been hand-to-hand fighting in the city.
"Another foreign doctor, who had been forced at gunpoint to abandon a seriously wounded patient in midoperation, added in a dark voice: 'They have not got a humanitarian thought in their heads!'"
It might also be worthwhile to take another look at the quote about mass executions. First, it should be noted that Schanberg was making a prediction: which, as it turned out, was drastically wrong. But more importantly, let's see what Chomsky and Herman cut out of the quote. Here's a little more of it:
"There have been unconfirmed reports of executions of senior military and civilian officials, and no one who witnessed the take-over doubts that top people of the old regime will be or have been punished or perhaps killed or that a large number of people will die of the hardships on the march into the countryside. But none of this will apparently bear any resemblance to the mass executions that had been predicted by Westerners."
Doesn't that seem like selective editing to you?
6. Economist - Letter by eye-witness Cambodia economist W.J.Sampson.
This is an interesting one. William Shawcross discusses Sampson's comments in his NYRB article from 1978. Here is an excerpt:
"Anxious to know more about Sampson's views, I spoke to him and his wife in Brussels in two long telephone calls. He works for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and was about to leave for a new assignment in New Guinea. He and his wife evidently shared strong emotions about the wanton destruction of the war itself, and criticized the US and the Lon Nol governments. But although Sampson agreed that disease was a real threat, he did not think the evacuation of Phnom Penh could be explained by the shortage of food; he considered there were ample supplies of fish and vegetables in and near the city. To the Khmer Rouge, he told me, Phnom Penh was 'Sodom and Gomorrah. They wanted people out.'
I asked Sampson how many he believed had died since April 1975. He said he thought 10 percent of the 2.5 million evacuated from Phnom Penh would have died while on the roads. He no longer wanted to give an estimate of executions but said that altogether 'deaths over and above the normal death rate would not be more than half a million.' Mr. Sampson thus seems an unconvinced and unconvincing witness on behalf of Khmer Rouge moderation."
I could write another full page about the exchanges between Porter, Sampson, Shawcross, and Chomsky and Herman, but it scarcely matters: the bottom line is that the statistician whom Chomsky and Herman regarded as a "neglected source" believed that the evacuation of Phnom Penh was motivated by ideology, and had resulted in 250,000 deaths.
Comments addressing a few of your other remarks are below:
"Your sources at the time, which you seem to think prove Chomsky an apologist, do not agree with the final outcomes."
I do not think Chomsky is an apologist. In fact, on my site you'll find an archive of an old Usenet debate from 1995, in which I wrote: "None of this, I must stress, is meant to imply that Chomsky is or was a Khmer Rouge apologist. He isn't." (http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/media1.htm). I think Chomsky's work on Cambodia is routinely misleading, but I don't think it deserves to be called apologia, with one exception: that is the comment near the end of "After the Cataclysm," in which Chomsky and Herman claimed that if the Khmer Rouge were brutal, their violence was a "direct and understandable" response to the American actions. If calling terror "understandable" isn't apologia, I don't know what is.
"Why, at the time, should the claims of official KR sources have been considered unworthy of any mention?"
I will answer that by stealing a line from Shawcross' NYRB article discussing Hildebrand and Porter: "Their apparent faith in Khmer Rouge assertions and statistics is surprising in two men who have spent so long analyzing the lies that governments tell."
"[D]istinguishing between accurate and inaccurate evidence is only easy after the incontrovertible evidence is in."
That is only true if you have an equal volume of both. The volume of evidence pointing to the horrors of the regime vastly outweighed the handful of positive or neutral accounts.
"Now, when you take up the matter of State Department sources you discuss rice supplies, and attempt to discredit the pre-1980 views of the State Department with a long quote from a book written in 1998 - with all due respect that's simply not logical. You are also, apparenly, claiming the State Department should be counted among 'the regime's supporters', which I find confusing."
I must write really, really poorly, because I can't understand at all why you would have thought I was claiming that. I simply noted that in 1979 Chomksy and Herman criticized Barron and Paul for relying on State Department sources, then Chomsky later claimed that the State Department sources were actually the most reliable ones, and that he and Herman were the only ones who had relied on them.
It took me quite a while to even figure out what you were citing regarding State Department sources and rice production. I finally realized that you were reading a passage in which I was quoting Chomsky and Herman, who were in turn quoting Lewis Simons, who had in turn quoted Gareth Porter... and according to C&H, Simons had written that Porter's claim was "more or less supported by State Department officials." I'm certainly not attempting to "discredit the pre-1980 views of the State Department"! I have not seen Simons' article, and I have no idea what State Department officials or documents he is talking about, and I have no idea whether or not the State Department truly did "more or less" support Porter/Simons/Chomsky-Herman's claim. (I'm inclined to doubt it.) I cited that passage simply because it was a good example of the questionable claims Chomsky and Herman were making regarding the economy under the Khmer Rouge.
"Your comments seem to suggest that you think Chomsky was somehow trying to discredit and discourage any future work on the KR, which is absurd. His notes of scorn are hauled at the media and Baron & Pauls openly dishonest account. He gave Ponchaud firm endorsements, 'very serious', 'worth reading', etc., with some criticism on areas that needed more work amid a few attempts to independently verify Ponchaud's account, per consistency with regard to quotes, etc., as is standard procedure when reviewing sources."
Again, I'm not sure why you think I'm suggesting that Chomsky was trying to discourage future work on the KR. As far as his "scorn" at B&P's "openly dishonest account," in what way is their account "openly dishonest"? I agree that there are serious omissions, and that there are some sloppy citations, but there is nothing that is clearly deliberate dishonesty. Here again, we come to the issue of hypocrisy; if you want to assert that B&P were dishonest, then you surely must admit that Hildebrand and Porter were similarly dishonest; and if Chomsky's comments on Ponchaud reflect "standard procedure when reviewing sources," then you need to explain why those same procedures were not applied to H&P.
Regarding Windschuttle, Sophal Ear, and Brad DeLong: I've no particular interest in Windschuttle. DeLong? I liked his short critique of Chomsky, and I'm in awe of the volume of traffic that his blog apparently gets, judging by what I see in my referrer logs. As to his "carrying water" comment, well... to me, that's oversimplifying things. Some people no doubt will read what I wrote and think that it's proof positive that Chomsky is a monster. Some people will no doubt read what I wrote and think it's proof positive that I'm a monster. Some people will read what I wrote and decide that I'm a loopy, time-traveling doofus. And Sophal? I agree with much of what he writes, and disagree on a few things. But thinking about Sophal brings to mind one of Chomsky's comments that I find really, really frustrating: it's quoted toward the end of my article, and the gist of it is that Chomsky claims his Internet critics are just right-wing imperialists who want to oppress Savadorans. Excuse me for being blunt, but for Christ's fucking sake, Sophal's father died in the Khmer Rouge regime. Did it ever occur to Chomsky that maybe some of the people who are frustrated with him might have something other than Central American peasants on their minds?
On the death toll, Vickery's estimate of 750,000 excess deaths dates back to 1984, and even then it was significantly lower than most other estimates. I find it very unlikely that anyone seriously interested in Cambodia still considers it a credible figure. In "The Pol Pot Regime," Kiernan notes that Vickery's estimate is lower primarily because Vickery discarded the generally accepted estimates of the population in 1975 (between 7.8 and 8 million) in favor of "a much lower 'guess'" of 7.1 million. Kiernan shows (convincingly, in my opinion) that the lower "guess" cannot possibly be correct. Concerning the remains recovered by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, Craig Etcheson discusses at length the reasons these remains are believed to be victims of the Khmer Rouge: "The more than twenty thousand mass graves mapped so far are virtually all located at, or near, Khmer Rouge security centers. Eyewitnesses at most of these mass grave sites have testified that the graves contain victims brought there by Khmer Rouge security forces, and that the victims were murdered either in the adjacent prisons or at the mass grave sites themselves. Thus one may conclude that virtually all of the mass graves contain victims whose cause of death was execution by the Khmer Rouge." Etcheson's article addresses a number of Vickery's contentions directly; anyone interested in the details can review the report at http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/toll.htm.
On the issues of "doves" and "hawks," in the article I was quoting ("Propaganda American-Style"), Chomsky is talking about the press, not the government. And if he is, on his own, redefining "doves" to include people who were in favor of continuing the war, well, that would seem to me to be a perfect example of "the standard Orwellian manner" that he is railing against in the article. And exactly what is it about the doves' position that was, as Chomsky put it, "feigned"?
posted by BruceSharp
@ 2003-12-05 15:03:52 | link
"I must write really, really poorly"
I haven't taken the time yet to read most of this let alone respond, but I will say that you probably couldn't be any worse than Noam.
posted by buermann
@ 2003-12-07 04:40:07 | link