Khmer Rouge Apologist Noam Chomsky: An Offense to all who died under Pol Pot
A Review of his record to date
By Nate Thayer
Professor Noam Chomsky is a brilliant man. He is without question the world’s leading scholar on linguistics, a long deserved tenured professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and speaks 32 languages. He so dominates the international field of linguistics, that he created another school of linguistic theory for the purpose of encouraging debate within his specialty.
However Chomsky is best known as a very active political critic. He refuses to attach an ideology to himself, but has described his politics in their past as similar to an Anarchist.
He is too smart to simply not understand the political consequences he has made a career out of espousing on the issue of culpability for crimes committed during Khmer Rouge rule. And they are nothing less than intellectually intentional, knowing lies designed to mislead people as to the true facts to further a pre-determined ideological agenda, parsing, obfuscating and intentionally deceiving people to wrongly attribute the origins, causes, responsibility and perpetrators of the Cambodian suffering. His writings on Cambodia have done more damage, through its surface logic, to allowing those responsible for mass murder to avoid facing justice, and to misdirect that responsibility on peripheral players in the 40 year old drama. Not only does he deem the architects of Cambodian suffering as the US government, but labels the intenrational independent media as willing accomplices.
In the June 25, 1977 issue of the “Nation” a popular left leaning magazine in the U.S., Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman authored “Distortions at Fourth Hand.”
In it, he denied the credibility of information leaking out of Cambodia of a bloodbath underway, and viciously attacked the authors of reportage suggesting many were dying and suffering under the Khmer Rouge. “The technical name for this farce is 'freedom of the press'. All are free to write as they wish: Fox Butterfield, with his ideological blinders, on the front page of the Times (daily circulation more than 800,000)…. that find only 'woes' and distress, reach a mass audience and become part of the established truth. In this way a 'line' is implanted in the public mind with all the effectiveness of a system of censorship, while the illusion of an open press and society is maintained. If dictators were smarter, they would surely use the American system of thought control and indoctrination…."
Chomsky called it "a campaign to reconstruct the history of these years so as to place the role of the United States in a more favorable light. The drab view of contemporary Vietnam provided by Butterfield and the establishment press helps to sustain the desired rewriting of history, asserting as it does the sad results of Communist success and American failure. Well suited for these aims are tales of Communist atrocities, which not only prove the evils of communism but undermine the credibility of those who opposed the war and might interfere with future crusades for freedom."
"It is in this context that we must view the recent spate of newspaper reports, editorials and books on Cambodia, a part of the world not ordinarily of great concern to the press. However, an exception is made when useful lessons may be drawn and public opinion mobilized in directions advantageous to the established order. Such didacticism often plays fast and loose with the truth.”
“For example, on April 8, 1977, The Washington Post devoted half a page to 'photographs believed to be the first of actual forced labor conditions in the countryside of Cambodia [to] have reached the West.' The pictures show armed soldiers guarding people pulling plows, others working fields, and one bound man (“It is not known if this man was killed,” the caption reads). Quite a sensational testimonial to Communist atrocities, but there is a slight problem. The Washington Post account of how they were smuggled out by a relative of the photographer who died in the escape is entirely fanciful. The pictures had appeared a year earlier in France, Germany and Australia, as well as in the Bangkok Post.” He suggested that “the series of pictures could have been taken in Thailand with the prime objective of destroying the image of the Socialist parties” before the election.”
He continued: “Even if the photographs had been authentic, we might ask why people should be pulling plows in Cambodia. The reason is clear, if unmentioned. The savage American assault on Cambodia did not spare the animal population. Hildebrand and Porter, in their Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, cite a Cambodian Government report of April 1976 that several hundred thousand draft animals were killed in the rural areas. The Post did not have to resort to probable fabrications to depict the facts.” Hildebrand and Porters book Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution was cited as quoting the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge themselves as to why slave labour under the KR was a myth created to serve American propaganda. “Hildebrand and Porter present a carefully documented study of the destructive American impact on Cambodia and the success of the Cambodian revolutionaries in overcoming it, giving a very favorable picture of their programs and policies, based on a wide range of sources.” Their book was a left wing diatribe that relied entirely on KR official propaganda documents and statements melded with anti--American propaganda. There was nothing remotely acceptable in its scholarship or methodology. Both authors admitted a number of years ago that their book had been discredited and distanced themselves from their own work.
“In his Foreword to Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, Asian scholar George Kahin observes that it is a book from which 'anyone who is interested in understanding the situation obtaining in Phnom Penh before and after the Lon Nol government's collapse and the character and programs of the Cambodian Government that has replaced it will, I am sure, be grateful…' But the mass media are not grateful for the Hildebrand-Porter message, and have shielded the general public from such perceptions of Cambodia.” Here Chomsky blames the media, again, as conspiring en masse to allow the public to hear the truth about the KR.
“In contrast, the media favorite, Barron and Paul's Murder of a Gentle Land: untold story of Communist Genocide in Cambodia (their subtitle), virtually ignores the U.S. Government role. When they speak of 'the murder of a gentle land,' they are not referring to B-52 attacks on villages or the systematic bombing and murderous ground sweeps by American troops or forces organized and supplied by the United States, in a land that had been largely removed from the conflict prior to the American attack. Their point of view can be predicted from the 'diverse sources' on which they relied: namely, 'informal briefings from specialists at the State and Defense Departments, the National Security Council and three foreign embassies in Washington.' Their 'Acknowledgements' mention only the expertise of Thai and Malaysian officials, U.S. Government Cambodian experts, and Father Ponchaud. They also claim to have analyzed radio and refugee reports.” In fact Barron and Paul’s book, widely vilified by the left ideologues when it came out, was the first to document widespread starvation, murder, human rights abuses, torture, and harsh central polices where people were dying from being turned into slave labor. It was widely accused for being a CIA funded propaganda tract. Its contents have almost wholly turned out to be remarkably accurate. In fact it relied almost exclusively on interviews with several thousand refugees who had managed to escape to Thailand and were in refugee camps on the Thai border. They were eyewitness accounts from inside KR Cambodia---sourcing that didn’t exist in either Chomsky or Porter and Hildebrand's books. Barron and Paul also included eyewitness reports from journalists who were held at the French embassy in Phnom Penh and saw the genesis of the transformation of Cambodia into the shocking central controlled policies that left nearly 2 million dead. Chomsky downplays these reports, cherry picking from those that, as journalists are supposed to do, only reported what they could confirm. Their scholarship collapses under the barest scrutiny. To cite a few cases, they state that among those evacuated from Phnom Penh, “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,” citing, among others, J.J. Cazaux, who wrote, in fact, that “not a single corpse was seen along our evacuation route,” and that early reports of massacres proved fallacious (The Washington Post, May 9, 1975). They also cite The New York Times, May 9, 1975, where Sydney Shanberg wrote that “there 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.” Chomsky neglects to point out that the journalists were held hostage and Schanberg concluded they saw no corpses because the Khmer Rouge made sure they did not. Schanberg was also almost executed himself for seeing what little he did see. In the same article Chomsky cites from Cazaux, he fails to include the detailed account of the French surgeon at Calmette Hospital who came out with the last group of westerners, who said that he saw three hundred bodies with their throats cut in the central market. Chomsky goes on: “(Barron and Paul) do not mention 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, who was evacuated at the same time and reported that evacuated priests 'were not witness to any cruelties' and that there were deaths, but 'not thousands, as certain newspapers have written' (cited by Hildebrand and Porter).” Chomsky here refers to an article in the LA Times of May 9 which shows how he distorts, in what can only be intentional, the journalists account: “Phnom Penh was described by many of the returnees as a “dead city,” littered with decomposing bodies, and abandoned household goods and populated by a few forlorn pets and a few Khmer Rouge soldiers. One Frenchman said last Thursday the Khmer Rouge had come to his house and ordered him to leave or be shot. He recalled: “On the way to the embassy I saw several dead bodies rotting in the street. Some of them apparently had been shot, but some had their heads crushed and appeared to have been beaten to death.”
"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.”
Chomsky and Herman continued to shift blame from the KR, tried to discredit reports suggesting KR atrocities, and cited without quotation media that he throughout uses as examples of a conspiracy of propaganda: “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. 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.”
Citing news reports that “repeated discoveries that massacre reports were false” is an outright fabrication. Just because the closed Cambodian borders made evidence difficult to confirm does not mean anyone was reporting they were outright false, save for Chomsky and his ilk. As Cambodia scholar Sopheal Ear points out: “Of course the respectable magazines that Chomsky and Herman cite (the Economist and the Far Eastern Economic Review) say no such thing, and if there had really been any 'discoveries that massacre reports were false' then Chomsky and the magazine in which his article appeared would have given us chapter and verse in type the size of tombstones."
"Chomsky leads the reader to believe that a well informed person, someone who reads prestigious news magazines like the Economist, who reads magazines targeted primarily at the wealthy, someone affluent and cultured, would not believe the stuff about democide, and that that business about democide was just lowbrow propaganda for the ignorant trailer trash masses. Chomsky uses the authority and prestige of these very reputable magazines to contradict reports of vast crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He claims that these are 'conflicting reports' that justify disbelief in the alleged crimes of the Khmer Rouge, that these very respectable magazines endorse his position (without actually admitting that that is his position)."
There was of course no such evidence, and no such endorsement. When one chases down these citations, one is led to an article by Nayan Chanda, who thought that the guilt of the Khmer Rouge was not proven. Chomsky and Herman leads the reader to believe them in confident possession of evidence proving the innocence of the Khmer Rouge….. When Chomsky and Herman tell us of 'discoveries that massacre reports were false' this leads the reader to expect (from the context that this is a criticism of press reporting) that some of the many horrific massacre reports he has read in the press were discovered to be false, and that the terribly biased press failed to broadcast this news. The reader expects that if he looks up these sources he will find important neglected news, some dramatic newsworthy facts that disproves some of these terrible stories, and thus casts doubt on all these stories of horror, terror and mass murder under the Khmer Rouge.”
In fact the Economist wrote an article endorsing Ponchaud's estimates of hundreds of thousands executed, a million or so dying of brutal mistreatment. Chomsky presented the Far Eastern Economic Review as confidently denying the possibility that the killings were vastly higher, but Chanda specifically denies such knowledge and confidence. Chanda's claim was not that he had evidence that the Khmer Rouge were innocent, but that if we ignore all the evidence indicating they are guilty, there is not much evidence that they are guilty — a position that might perhaps have been defensible when Chanda wrote in 1976, but had become untenable when Chomsky and Herman wrote in 1977. The refugee reports of casual murder, massacres, and frequent forgetfulness of the need to feed and water the slaves, were confirmed by massacres on the border.
Chomsky then writes:”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). 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 these 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.”
In fact refugee reports are highly credible. Refugees are not trained or in a physical or mental state to concoct false political conspiracies that hold water. Refugees are credible because they come across in separate groups or alone from different areas of the border and originating from different parts of Cambodia at different times for different reasons. It would be impossible for them to conspire together to tell a consistent false story.
Chomsky uses official KR statements and propaganda as “credible documentation” while dismissing the eyewitness accounts of people fleeing abominable conditions and further states “Washington is the torture and political murder capital of the world.”
When it comes to death from disease, Chomsky again blames the Americans: “though there was ‘a big death toll from sickness’— surely a direct consequence, in large measure, of the devastation caused by the American attack.” The American bombing had stopped 2 years prior to KR victory, and he fails to even mention the effect of the evacuation of 2 million people from the cities as a possible contributing factor.
As to the toll of central policy of the KR resulting in people killed Chomsky says this, quoting Ponchaud, the French priest: “Here we read the 'Most foreign experts on Cambodia and its refugees believe at least 1.2 million persons have been killed or have died as a result of the Communist regime since April 17, 1975' (UPI, Boston Globe, April 17, 1977). No source is given, but it is interesting that a 1.2 million estimate is attributed by Ponchaud to the American Embassy (Presumably Bangkok).”
He continues outright dismissing reports of mass deaths as credible using no sourcing to attribute it to: “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 1 million would die in the next year.” In fact in 1976 Time magazine estimated about six hundred thousand. In 1977 Ponchaud estimated about one million two hundred thousand wrongful deaths, Barron and Paul the same. In 1978 US senator George McGovern estimated two and a half million. The universally accepted figure, after forensic, demographic, and scientific analysis now puts the figure at 1.7 million deaths in the KR 3 year reign.
Chomsky doesn’t stop there: “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. Christian Science Monitor editorial states: 'Reports put the loss of life as high as 2 million people out of 7.8 million total.' Again, there is no source, but we will suggest a possibility directly. The New York Times analysis of 'two years after the Communist victory' goes still further. David Andelman, May 2, 1977, speaks without qualification of 'the purges that took hundreds of thousands of lives in the aftermath of the Communist capture of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975.'”
The experts who actually made the study where both the books of Ponchaud and Barron and Paul, which Chomsky condemns as US propoganda and turned out to be an underestimate of the deaths confirmed in the 1990’s up to date in exhaustive research.
Chomsky doesn’t seem satisfied dismissing death tolls out of hand, offering no independent evidence, simply attacking the sourcing as politically motivated lies.” Even the U.S. Government sources on which journalists often uncritically rely advance no such claim, to our knowledge. In fact, even Barron and Paul claim only that “100,000 or more” were killed in massacres and executions — they base their calculations on a variety of interesting assumptions, among them, that all military men, civil-servants and teachers were targeted for execution; curiously, their “calculations” lead them to the figure of 1.2 million deaths as a result of “actions” of the Khmer Rouge governing authorities, by January 1, 1977 (“at a very minimum”); by a coincidence, the number reported much earlier by the American Embassy, according to Ponchaud. Elsewhere in the press, similar numbers are bandied about, with equal credibility.” The figures cited, after extrapolation from a broad range of available but limited sources—but qualified by the authors as such--were: Barron and Paul estimate: 400,000 or more during the first exodus; 430,000 or more from disease and starvation during the latter half of 1975; 250,000 or more from disease and starvation in 1976; 100,000 or more in massacres and by execution; and 20,000 or more during escape attempts. While these figures during this period are higher than now believed, they reflect the pattern and, aggregately, reflect the final death toll.
Again Chomsky attributed suffering under the DK, not to the KR, but to the American policy toward Cambodia.” It is difficult to convey the deep cynicism of this all-too-typical reporting which excises from history the American role in turning peaceful Cambodia into a land of massacre, starvation and disease. While the editors prate about morality, people are dying in Cambodia as a direct result of the policies that they supported, and, indeed concealed. Hildebrand and Porter quote a Western doctor in Phnom Penh on the mass starvation that resulted from the American war: 'as well as knocking off a generation of young men, the war is knocking off a generation of children'—those who will die from the permanent damage suffered from severe malnutrition, one small part of the American legacy to this “lovely land.””
Here he blames not just any problems in post KR Cambodia on the US, but on a vast conspiracy of silence by the media: ”To appreciate fully the cynicism of the press and editorial comments, it is necessary to recall the role of the American mass media in supporting the “secret war” against Cambodia. Prior to the Nixon-Kissinger administration, Cambodian villages had been subject to U.S. or U.S.-supported armed attack, invariably denied, but on occasion later conceded when it was discovered that Western observers were present. The massive assault against Cambodia began in March 1969, when the “secret” B-52 raids were launched. In the following weeks, the Cambodian Government made repeated efforts to bring the facts to the attention of the international press. Prince Sihanouk appealed to the press to make public these “criminal attacks” on “peaceful Cambodian farmers” and to “publicize abroad this very clear stand of Cambodia” in opposing all bombings on Cambodian territory under whatever pretext.” In January 1970, his government released an official White Book giving details of U.S. attacks on civilians up to May 1969 including names, places, dates; figures and photographs. All of this was concealed by the American press, which was later to claim that it was Richard Nixon who kept the 1969 bombardment from the press and the American people. There was one notable exception, a New York Times report by William Beecher (May 9, 1969), headed “Raids in Cambodia by U.S. Unprotested,” which reported B-52 raids on “Vietcong and North Vietnamese supply dumps and base camps “in Cambodia,” citing U.S, sources and disregarding Sihanouk’s impassioned protest against the murder of “Khmer peasants, women and children in particular””
Here Chomsky belittles comparisons to fascist Germany to the suffering at the time of his writing was underway on a full scale. His argument is that since the source was not the KR themselves, rather an independent newspaper report, it wasn’t credible: “Lacouture does in fact compare the Khmer Rouge to the Nazis. He states that Ponchaud cites “telling articles” from a Cambodian Government newspaper and quotes a paragraph which states that “we will choose only the fruit that suit us perfectly,” as distinct from the Vietnamese, who “have removed only the rotten fruit.” Commenting on this passage Lacouture states “Perhaps Beria would not have dared to say this openly; Himmler might have done so.” And he then concludes that the Cambodian revolution is “worthy of Nazi Gauleiters.”
The newspaper report that elicited these judgments, on which the press uncritically relies, does appear in Ponchaud's book. The source, however, is not a Cambodian Government newspaper, but a Thai newspaper, a considerable difference. The quoted paragraph was written by a Thai reporter who claims to have had an interview with a Khmer Rouge official. How seriously would we regard a critical account of the United States in a book by a hostile European leftist based on a report in Pravda of a statement allegedly made by an unnamed American official? The analogy is precise. Why then should we rest any judgment on Ponchaud's account of a Thai report of an alleged statement by an unnamed Khmer Rouge official? What is certain is that the basis for Lacouture's accusations, cited above, disappears when the quotes are properly attributed: to a Thai reporter, not a Cambodian Government newspaper.”
Instead, he makes a comparison to the French revolution, adding the suffering in France was considerably less than suffering inflicted by the US. “But if postwar Cambodia is more similar to France after liberation, where many thousands of people were massacred within a few months under far less rigorous conditions than those left by the American war, then perhaps a rather different judgment is in order. That the latter conclusion may be more nearly correct is suggested by the analyses mentioned earlier.”
Again, he claims there is a conspiracy by the media in cahoots with the US to deceive the public of the truth, which he cites as more accurately reflected by Porter and Hildebrand—an outright ideological tract with no acceptable scholarly methodology, an apologist tract for communist theory in which both authors later personally disavowed themselves from their own work. ”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.”
Ad infinitum:” It is a fair generalization that the larger the number of deaths attributed to the Khmer Rouge, and the more the U.S. role is set aside, the larger the audience that will be reached. The Barron-Paul volume is a third-rate propaganda tract, but its exclusive focus on Communist terror assures it a huge audience.”
He concludes the conspiracy chain of propaganda that removes culpability from the Khmer Rouge and puts it on the free press as a willing vehicle of the US government lies: Reports of” large numbers executed gave a 'Left' authentication of Communist evil that assured a quantum leap to the mass audience unavailable to Hildebrand and Porter. Contrary facts are generally ignored or inadequately reported in favor of a useful lesson…The chain of transmission runs from refugees (or Thai or U.S. officials), to Ponchaud, to the New York Review, to the press, where a mass audience is reached and 'facts' are established that enter the approved version of history.”
Chomsky has written numerous tracts and books defending his position since, including “Manufacturing Consent”, published alongside Edward Herman in 1988, a work Chomsky boasts is “a rare study that does not contain errors”. He and Herman also wrote “After the Cataclysm,” which said “In the first place, is it proper to attribute deaths from malnutrition and disease to Cambodian authorities?”
Both books are on the Cambodian period under the Khmer Rouge and the role of the media in intentionally writing propaganda in the service of the US government.
Other gems: “If a serious study … is someday undertaken, it may well be discovered … that the Khmer Rouge programmes elicited a positive response … because they dealt with fundamental problems rooted in the feudal past and exacerbated by the imperial system.… Such a study, however, has yet to be undertaken.”
And: “New York Times' analysis of 'conditions in Indochina two years after the end of the war there.' Nor is there any discussion in the Times of the 'case of the missing bloodbath', although forecasts of a holocaust were urged by the U.S. leadership, official experts and the mass media over the entire course of the war in justifying our continued military presence. The technical name for this farce is 'freedom of the press'. All are free to write as they wish: Fox Butterfield, with his ideological blinders, on the front page of the Times (daily circulation more than 800,000)”
Chomsky and Herman use Hildebrand and Porter’s Starvation and Revolution as its most credible source. A brief examination of it reveals it for what it is. Just as Hildebrand and Porter had nothing negative to say about the Khmer Rouge, Chomsky and Herman had nothing negative to say about Hildebrand and Porter.
Describing the reports of atrocities in Cambodia as a "systematic process of mythmaking." They assert that reports of starvation in Cambodia are incorrect: "It is the officially inspired propaganda of starvation for which no proof has been produced... Thus the starvation myth has come full circle to haunt its authors." The Khmer Rouge were implementing a "coherent, well-developed plan for developing the economy."
On the evacuation of the cities: “"It is the officially inspired propaganda of starvation for which no proof has been produced... Thus the starvation myth has come full circle to haunt its authors."
By 1978 Hildebrand backed off from his own work, but Chomsky didn’t. “ON CBS 60 Minutes Hildebrand said: My... my only plea is for some degree of balance in assessing the human suffering that undoubtedly still exists in Cambodia."
“In after the Cataclysm” written after the KR fell from power, Chomsky and Herman continued: “"The ferocious U.S. attack on Indochina left the countries [of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia] devastated, facing almost insuperable problems. The agricultural systems of these peasant societies were seriously damaged or destroyed... With the economies in ruins, the foreign aid that kept much of the population alive terminated, and the artificial colonial implantations no longer functioning, it was a condition of survival to turn (or return) the populations to productive work. The victors in Cambodia undertook drastic and often brutal measures to accomplish this task, simply forcing the urban population into the countryside where they were compelled to live the lives of poor peasants, now organized in a decentralized system of communes. At heavy cost, these measures appear to have overcome the dire and destructive consequences of the U.S. war by 1978."
They wrote: “"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."
Ponchaud wrote later of Chomsky’s citing of his work: "Even before this book was translated it was sharply criticized by Mr. Noam Chomsky and Mr. Gareth Porter. These two 'experts' on Asia claim that I am mistakenly trying to convince people that Cambodia was drowned in a sea of blood after the departure of the last American diplomats. They say there have been no massacres, and they lay the blame for the tragedy of the Khmer people on the American bombings. They accuse me of being insufficiently critical in my approach to the refugee's accounts. For them, refugees are not a valid source...After an investigation of this kind, it is surprising to see that 'experts' who have spoken to few if any refugees should reject their very significant place in any study of modern Cambodia. These experts would rather base their arguments on reasoning: if something seems impossible to their personal logic, then it doesn't exist. Their only sources for evaluation are deliberately chosen official statements. Where is that critical approach which they accuse others of not having?"
“Referring to Chomsky, Ponchaud writes:"He has made it my duty to 'stem the flood of lies' about Cambodia -- particularly, according to him, those propagated by Anthony Paul and John Barron in 'Murder of a Gentle Land.'"
"Mr. Gareth Porter also criticized my book very sharply during a congressional hearing on the subject of human rights in Cambodia, and argued that I was trying to convince people that Cambodia was drowned in a sea of blood after the departure of the last American diplomats. He denied that a general policy of purge was put into effect and considered that the tragedy through which the Khmer people are now living should mainly be attributed to the American bombings. He censured me for lacking a critical approach in my use of the refugee accounts, on the ground that they were not credible because the refugees were deliberately trying to blacken the regime they had fled.In the beginning, I was not opposed to the Khmer revolution... I welcomed the revolutionaries' victory as the only possible means of bringing Cambodia out of its misery. But after making a careful and full study... I was compelled to conclude, against my will, that the Khmer revolution is irrefutably the bloodiest of our century. A year after the publication of my book I can find no reason to alter my judgment."
Other Khmer Rouge scholars on the left have refuted their earlier sympathetic writing which Chomsky used and still uses as primary sourcing. Ben Kiernan reconsidered his position shortly after the publication of After the Cataclysm. In the Bulletin of Concerned Asia Scholars, October-December 1979, the editors of that publication asked him why he had "changed his mind" and had become critical of the Khmer Rouge regime. "I was late in realizing the extent of the tragedy in Kampuchea," he wrote. He continued: "I was wrong about an important aspect of Kampuchean communism: the brutal authoritarian trend within the revolutionary movement after 1973 was not simply a grassroots reaction, and expression of popular outrage at the killing and destruction of the countryside by US bombs, although that helped it along decisively." He echoes this statement in Peasants and Politics in Kampuchea 1942 - 1981. "In analyzing the reasons for continuing violence after the war, I failed to identify the deliberate, if hampered, activities of the Pol Pot group."
Leftist scholar Michael Vickery after 1979 revised his pro-Khmer Rouge stance and Chomsky and Herman adopted it. If the Khmer Rouge were bad, it was because the U.S. deliberately made them that way. Thus, they repeat Michael Vickery's claims that US policy in Cambodia was driven by a desire to "'insure that the post-war revolutionary government be extremely brutal, doctrinaire, and frightening to its neighbors, rather than a moderate socialism to which the Thai, for example, might look with envy.'"
So even after the KR were overthrown and the evidence was clear of the barbarity they imposed Chomsky continued with his same theme of apologetic excuses and misdirected blame. "If a serious study of the impact of Western imperialism on Cambodian peasant life is someday undertaken, it may well be discovered that the violence lurking behind the Khmer smile…is not a reflection of obscure traits in peasant culture and psychology, but is the direct and understandable response to the violence of the imperial system, and that its current manifestations are a no less direct and understandable response to the still more concentrated and extreme savagery of a U.S. assault that may in part have been designed to evoke this very response, as we have noted. Such a study may also show that the Khmer Rouge programs elicited a positive response from some sectors of the Cambodian peasantry because they dealt with fundamental problems rooted in the feudal past and exacerbated by the imperial system with its final outburst of uncontrolled barbarism."
In 1988, Chomsky and Herman published 1988 “Manufacturing Consent”, a tract linking a supine willing ‘free press’ to carry out the propaganda orders of their western governments.
"The CIA, in its demographic study in 1980, claims that Pol Pot killed 50-100,000 people and attributes most deaths to the Vietnamese invasion, also denying flatly the atrocities of 1978, which were by far the worst (that's the source of the famous piles of skulls, etc.; these became known after the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, and were certainly known to the CIA). Michael Vickery has written about the CIA study, suggesting that it was tailored to fit the fact that the US was tacitly supporting Pol Pot in '78 and later... Vickery estimates about 700,000 deaths 'above the normal' in the Pol Pot years -- which, if accurate, would be about the same as deaths during the US war (the first phase of the 'Decade of Genocide,' as 1969-79 is called by the one independent government analysis, Finland). For that period, the CIA estimates 600,000 deaths. The Yale Genocide project (Ben Kiernan and others) gives higher estimates, about 1.5 million. In fact, no one knows. No one ever knows in such cases, within quite a broad range. When numbers are put forth with any confidence, and without a big plus-or-minus, you can be sure that there is an ideological agenda, in any such case. Demographic analyses are very weak."
They continue:” "US intelligence took a much more skeptical position than we did on refugee reports, but anyone who is even marginally serious about the matter understands all this -- of course, not those who don't give a damn about the suffering that refugees report, but are merely using it as an ideological weapon, specifically, as a justification for brutal atrocities. Recall that that was exactly the crucial issue at the time, as charges about the KR and the Vietnamese, many of them fabrications at a level that would have impressed Stalin (as we demonstrated), were being used as a justification for US atrocities in Central America and elsewhere. But credible evidence of atrocities existed then, which is why we condemned the brutality and crimes of the Khmer Rouge, and a lot more evidence came to light after we wrote, and after the reports of Ponchaud and State Department intelligence that we cited..."
Then they try to ignore some of there now indefensible claims and rewrite their own record.” "You might recall, perhaps, that we were probably the only commentators to rely on the most knowledgeable source, State Department intelligence. Our conclusion at the time was that it was probably the most reliable as well as by far the best informed, and subsequent revelations support that tentative judgment. They were avoided in the mainstream commentary because their conclusions didn't fit the propaganda line that was required to exploit the misery of the Cambodians to justify subjecting millions of other people to comparable misery, in Central America and elsewhere. Presumably that is also why the CIA demographic study of 1980, regarded as authoritative by US government specialists, is totally ignored..."
Chomsky goes on to add that:
To this day Chomsky defends every word he has written: "I am very pleased that there has been such a hysterical reaction to these writings. They've been analyzed with a fine tooth comb to try to find some error, and to my knowledge, the end result is that not even a misplaced comma has been found. True, a lot of errors have been found in fabricated material attributed to me, but that's a sign of the desperation of the apologists for state violence. If you know of an exception, I'd appreciate it if you'd inform me. I haven't yet seen one."
He continues in an interview: “"I should add that I don't pay attention to what appears on the internet sites that you are referring to... But if you do find this interesting, I'd suggest that you switch to sites that are at a similar intellectual level but a much higher moral level: I have in mind neo-Nazi and neo-Stalinist sites, which I presume exist. There I suppose you'll find very similar arguments: denunciations of those who condemned Nazi and Stalinist crimes on the basis of the terror and atrocities of resistance forces and the horrible aftermath of the defeat of fascism and the collapse of the USSR... But the neo-Nazis and neo-Stalinists are on a far higher moral level, for the obvious reason: fortunately, they are in no position to exploit the terror of the resistance and the horrendous aftermath in order to justify, and carry out, terrible crimes. That is, they were unable to sink to the depravity of those whose sites you are reading, who exploit the suffering for which they share considerable responsibility in order to impose misery on others, to protect them from 'the Pol Pot left' in El Salvador (priests organizing peasants, for example), or from the 'Communists' elsewhere -- exactly as we wrote in the 70s, and as has been happening since."
In October 1990 in a letter to the editor in a British newspaper Chomsky wrote a reply to a criticism: Sir: Douglas Hurd (12 October) writes that as an “apologist” for the Khmer Rouge, I “condemned reports of Khmer Rouge atrocities” as fabrications. There is a particle of truth in his statement: I did expose fabrications as fabrications, as in many other cases, e.g. vast exaggerations of the death toll due to US bombing in Cambodia - an exposure which, for some reason, has never elicited any criticism. The rest is a recurrent fantasy that has regularly been refuted in detail, only to surface in some new version. It is noteworthy that despite the hysteria that these exposures have aroused, no error has ever been discovered in them, a fact noted in the scholarly literature. The facts are easily checked.”
As recently as 2006 Chomsky wrote on his 30 years of denial of the Khmer Rouge culpability in crimes against humanity”
“I know nothing about Bruce Sharp, and have no time to access the link or in fact anything from the huge torrent of charges about Cambodia that derive from one of many industries of denunciation, from many different quarters. They would take 48 hours a day if I bothered with them. No one does that, or is expected to, in professional life either. It would be an impossible and pointless task, for anyone who does anything in the least controversial. In the case of the Cambodia industry, I did respond to much of the hysteria and deceit elicited by what Edward Herman and I wrote (as did he), but I stopped paying attention years ago because the industry was simply re-cycling charges that we had already answered. However, if someone wants to bring something specific to my attention, I do respond. As I will show below, the one excerpt from Sharp's article below keeps to the standards of extreme dishonestly of the industry.
It is interesting that in the reams of industry denunciations brought to my attention, no one has found anything mistaken or even misleading in the 1977 review-article or in our follow-up chapter in Political Economy of Human Rights (PEHR) or in anything else we have written on the matter jointly or individually. If you (or anyone) thinks there is something else in Sharp's comments that merits attention, then I'll be happy to consider it and respond, if you send it to me, either here or privately, and I presume Ed Herman would be too. But no one, ever, can be expected to respond to what is posted somewhere or even appears in print. To repeat, no one ever is expected to do that, whether in professional or political life, and certainly not when it becomes an industry -- in this case, an extremely interesting industry, casting a dazzling light on the deeply rooted imperial mentality and the dedication to serve state power and atrocities. “
There is really not much needs to add to Chomsky’s own indictment of himself. He owes not just Cambodians an apology, but one to the importance of intellectual honesty itself he has tarnished.