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Stephen Morris: 1981 review of "The Political Economy of Human Rights"

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Russil Wvong

Aug 11, 2003, 3:06:29 AM8/11/03
Chomsky on U.S. foreign policy
HARVARD INTERNATIONAL REVIEW, 3, 4, December-January 1981

(Stephen Morris is a fellow at the Russian Research Center at Harvard

For the ten years between 1965 and 1975 Noam Chomsky's political
writings were treated with enormous respect in the United
States. Chomsky was not only one of the principal figures of the
American new left, but his political writings were published in many
of the most widely read intellectual publications of this country.

The sources of Chomsky's prestige were obvious. He was and is the most
important theoretical linguist of modern times--a man referred to by
many as a genius in his field. Regardless of the controversial nature
of his linguistic theories, Chomsky was and is a man of enormous

Furthermore, since 1965 Chomsky has demonstrated a seemingly boundless
political energy. That energy has been channelled into his writing and
speaking on behalf of the two causes which have totally animated him:
the destruction of American global power and the destruction of the
state of Israel. Though these two issues did not totally exhaust his
political interests, they certainly dominated them.

This leads to the third factor responsible for Professor Chomsky's
decade of fame: the unpopularity, particularly among American
intellectuals, of American military involvement in Indochina. Chomsky
seemed to provide a clear and firm basis for opposing American policy
in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos--an intellectual certainty upon which one
could take an unambiguous moral stance. While liberal academics,
politicians, and journalists spoke of good intentions mistakenly
applied, Chomsky presented a less complex, more Manichean view of
America and its adversaries. For Chomsky it was perfectly clear that
the United States and the regimes it supported in Indochina
represented moral iniquity, while the Vietnamese, Laotian and
Cambodian Communists represented moral justice. It was symptomatic of
the Zeitgeist of America between 1965 and 1975 that Chomsky's views
were at least respected, if not embraced, by a sizeable segment of
American intellectual opinion.

While most of those who had embraced the radical politics of the 1960s
can now withdraw to their personal and professional lives in relative
anonymity, Chomsky has no such option. He is not simply
psychologically incapable of deactivation; rather, his numerous books
and articles have left an indelible mark on America's intellectual
consciousness. If and when American radicalism is called to account
for the historical consequences of its previous political stands, Noam
Chomsky would inevitably be one of the first to be called upon to

The historical consequences of new left foreign policy advocacy were
quick to manifest themselves in Indochina. The "forces of progress"
almost immediately began to undertake massive reprisals against the
communities they had militarily conquered. In Vietnam this meant the
creation of an enormous gulag of prisons, "re-education camps" and new
economic zones to deal with the hundreds of thousands of people and
their families who had dared to swim against the tides of
history. Less than three years later, the devious dialectics of
international realignment forced the Vietnamese Communist leaders to
begin to undertake a final solution to their ethnic Chinese "problem."
At the same time, in neighbouring Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge undertook
its great historical task with even more vigor. There, the "enemies of
the people" were simply "crushed to bits" (to use the terminology of
Cambodian progressives).

Once the evidence of Indochinese Communist behavior began to
accumulate, there were three possible responses open to those in the
West who had been helping to give history a push: the first was to
admit the facts and hence the error of their past political position,
and work to eradicate the evil they had mistakenly contributed to;
this has been the response of most of the democratic left in
France. The second possible response to the evidence was to admit what
was going on, but to try and justify it, usually with some bizarre
form of moral relativism (letting "them solve" their own problems in
"their own way"). This was the response of America's new politics
liberals, led by George McGovern for the first three years of the Pol
Pot regime. It is still the attitude of many of these people,
including McGovern, with regard to Vietnam. The third possible
response was to deny the evidence of repression, either totally or in
part, and thereby retain one's pride and prejudice. The American
radical left, with Professor Noam Chomsky in the vanguard, has taken
this third course.

The work under review, "The Political Economy of Human Rights", is the
culminating effort of a five-year campaign by Chomsky to provide a
defense for those Western intellectuals who consciously and
deliberately helped put Pol Pot and Le Duan in power. Written in
collaboration with Edward S. Herman, a professor of finance at the
University of Pennsylvania, Chomsky's two-volume extravaganza is not
only an attempt to reconstruct the anti-Western ideology of the new
left; but also is the most extensive rewriting of a period of
contemporary history ever produced in a non-totalitarian society.

The title of the book suggests that it is mainly about political
economy. This is somewhat misleading. Most of the book is about
political repression, and how the Western media covers repression in a
handful of countries (viz. Timor, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). Only
two of the chapters deal with subject matter that could remotely be
considered as within the realm of political economy. Even here the
discussion is little more than assertion of a casual connection
between the interests of American corporations in certain areas for
investment, the American government's development of client regimes in
those countries, and the massive violation of human rights by those
regimes. None of these assertions are ever given a basis in
scientifically tenable evidence and inference. In any case the
assertions are soon forgotten when Chomsky turns his attention to the
main theses of the book:

(1) America is responsible for most of the political repression in the

(2) The Western media is guilty of massive deception, in the way it
has reported news of repression in different parts of the
world. Specifically it has exaggerated and even fabricated evidence of
repression in some countries (mainly the Communist-ruled nations of
Indochina) while ignoring or minimizing evidence of repression
elsewhere (Timor). It has done so in order to conceal the truth of the
first proposition and thus rehabilitate the imperial ideology of the
United States.

How do Chomsky and Herman arrive at their first conclusion, upon which
their second proposition depends?

"Over the past 25 years at least the balance of terror appears to have
shifted to the West and its clients, with the United States setting
the pace as sponsor and supplier, The old colonial world was shattered
during World War II, and the resultant nationalist-radical upsurge
threatened traditional western hegemony and the economic interests of
western business. To contain this threat the United States has aligned
itself with elite and military elements in the Third World whose
function has been to contain the tides of change Under frequent US
sponsorship the neo-fascist National Security State and other forms of
authoritarian rule have become the dominant mode of government in the
Third World. Heavily armed by the West (mainly the United States) and
selected for amenability to foreign domination and zealous
anti-communism counter-revolutionary regimes have been highly torture-
and bloodshed-prone In the Soviet sphere of influence torture appears
to have been on the decline since the death of Stalin. In sharp
contrast torture, which "for the last two or three hundred years has
been no more than a historical curiosity, has suddenly developed a
life of its own and become a social cancer." Since it has declined in
the Soviet sphere since the death of Stalin, it would appear that this
cancerous growth is largely a Free World phenomenon. (p.8) the torture
and killing of political prisoners appears to be more extensive in the
Free World than in the Soviet Union and its satellites (p. 12)"

Thus Professors Chomsky and Herman arrive at the following conclusion:
"Washington has become the torture and political murder capital of the
word" (p. 16).

Before subjecting Chomsky's argument to the critical scrutiny it
demands, I must make a few preliminary comments. The first relates to
Chomsky's use of terminology. He refers to "totalitarian,
"neofascist," "subfascist"," and just plain "fascist" regimes, when he
is speaking of those regimes he regards as clients of the United
States. The word "totalitarian" is defined nowhere in the book, though
there exists a voluminous scholarly literature on the subject, almost
none of which defines the term in a manner compatible with Chomsky's
casual use of the word as a purely pejorative instrument, with no
regard for empirical content. For example, the former American-backed
nation of South Vietnam is referred to as "a corruption-based
totalitarian free-enterprise economy" (p. 28).

On the other hand, the successor Communist regime, whose institutional
structure is almost totally derived from either Stalinist USSR or
Maoist China, is not referred to as totalitarian, but merely as one
which employs "authoritarian discipline." (p. 28).

Nowhere is the term "fascism" defined; we are merely told that it has
"vicious characteristics." We are also told that the species of
"fascism" which the United States supports is "amenable to foreign
domination," a quality which no serious student of fascism would dare
attribute to the phenomenon; one of the most significant
characteristics of fascism has been its chauvinistic nationalism.

But lest we might conclude from all this that Chomsky and Herman are
merely vulgar Marxist polemicists, they hasten to tell us of a most
important distinction between fascism of the Hitler/Mussolini variety,
and the "fascism" of U.S. client states. According to the authors,
U.S. client regimes lack "the mass base that a Hitler or a Mussolini
could muster." Thus, it is argued, the U.S. clients should be labelled
"subfascist," for they are "lacking the degree of legitimacy of a
genuine fascist regime." We are left to conclude that the clients of
the United States have even less "right" to rule than a genuine
fascist regimes.

The authors claim to have a broad interest in human rights and have
made an attempt to provide a crude index of human rights violations in
various countries. Yet their delineation of the dimensions of human
rights violations is never clear and consistent. In the first, summary
chapter, it reduces simply to the killing and torturing of political
prisoners. While these dimensions of political repression are among
the most serious, they are hardly exhaustive. One also must take into
account the mere holding of political prisoners (in terms both of
absolute numbers and of their proportion of the total population of
the country), regardless of whether they are killed or tortured; this
dimension is never adequately dealt with in the author's conceptually
sloppy analysis. One must also consider in one's calculus the sealing
off of a country's borders by the regime to prevent citizens from
exercising their right to emigrate. This latter right is a crucial
option for people who live under a repressive regime, and its absence
must surely be crucial to any overall judgement of a regime's
repressiveness. Yet this latter aspect of human rights is never
considered in the work under consideration, for reasons which will
become obvious.

The authors' criterion of inclusion in the two categories being
compared--the "free world" and "the Soviet sphere of influence"--involves
a blatant dual standard for applying the concept of a "sphere of
influence." For while the American sphere of influence is defined in
terms of a broad analytical class--those third world regimes the United
States arms and provides economic aid to--the Soviet sphere of
influence is defined much more narrowly, in terms of its
geographically contiguous Warsaw Pact allies.

If Chomsky and Herman's comparison of Soviet and American spheres of
influence were to be even remotely fair from an analytical standpoint,
they would have to base it on (a) the United States and the other
Western industrial democracies versus the Soviet Union and its Eastern
European Communist allies, or (b) the United States, the other Western
industrial democracies, and those third world nations armed and aided
by the Western industrial democracies versus the Soviet Union, its
Eastern European allies, and those third world nations armed and aided
by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. This would
inconveniently include not only Vietnam, Cuba, Ethiopia etc., but also
Idi Amin's Uganda, Masia's Equatorial Guinea and Qadaffi's Libya--all
unfair competitors for the late Shah and the late President Park in
the international human rights violation competition. Chomsky and
Herman's inflation of the conception of an American "sphere of
influence" while narrowing the range of the Soviet sphere of influence
may be convenient for their ideological purposes, but is
intellectually absurd.

In making a judgement about where most of the world's human rights
violations are occurring, and who is responsible, one would have to at
least consider countries which are neither in the American sphere of
influence, nor in the Soviet sphere of influence, no matter how
loosely either of these categories may be defined. Since Stalin's
death even official Marxists have recognized that the world is no
longer divided into only two blocs. For example, the People's Republic
of China and its former ally Albania, as well as neutral North Korea,
are part of the world. Yet their massive violations of human rights
are never mentioned by the authors. And of course there is Pol Pot's
Kampuchea, correctly called the Auschwitz of Asia. Even when Chomsky
and Herman manage to admit casually that the Pol Pot regime was in
power when an "outbreak of violence, massacre and repression" occurred
in Cambodia, and even when they grossly understate the number of
victims of that regime (putting the figure at a preposterously low
100,000 dead), they are still left with an example which helps falsify
their claim that "Washington has become the torture and political
murder capital of the world." Or do they wish to argue, along with
Hanoi and its Neanderthal minions, that Pol Pot is part of the
American sphere of influence?

There is only one regime which has received arms and aid from the
United States, and which has a record of brutality which is even a
noticeable fraction of the brutality of Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Mao, or the
Hanoi politburo. That is the Suharto government in Indonesia. But
there are several reasons why the brutality of the Suharto regime
cannot be used to support the Chomsky-Herman thesis. First, its major
act of domestic brutality--the massacre of Communists and suspected
Communists in the wake of the aborted Communist coup in 1965--was
carried out with arms and aid supplied by the Soviet Union and
China. The United States was not the principal foreign supplier of
Indonesia when the generals seized power. (Nor is there any credible
evidence of American involvement in the coup.) Second, within the
period of American military assistance to Indonesia, and in particular
during the period of the Carter Administration, the number of
political prisoners has declined in Indonesia. Finally, the current
brutality of the Suharto regime, which Chomsky devotes most of his
attention to, is being directed against the people of East Timor a
former colony of Portugal which Indonesia is trying to take over by

The fact that the brutality is being perpetrated as part of an
external war in no way diminishes the inhumanity of the act. But it is
a brutality which is being exercised as part of the process of foreign
military intervention, not as part of its normal process of domestic
rule. It is a trite observation, but one that bears repeating here,
that states usually behave according to different moral rules in the
conduct of foreign policy than they do in the conduct of domestic
policy. The latter is often guided by a restraining notion of moral
community. Without making such a distinction, one would be forced to
conclude that the allied powers of World War II, who brutally bombed
the civilian populations of Hamburg and Dresden, were
indistinguishable from the Nazis in their attitude to human rights.

But *even if* one were to play the game by Chomsky's rules, and judge
the human rights record of a regime by referring to its behaviour in
foreign wars, then Indonesia's cruelty towards the East Timorese has
at least one serious competitor--the Vietnamese invaders of
Cambodia. The Vietnamese Communist regime, which had launched a
military invasion of its neighbor under the pretext of saving the
Cambodian people from Pol Pot, had prevented food and medicines from
being delivered to the starving population via a truck convoy from
Thailand. According to the Central Intelligence Agency study
"Kampuchea: A Demographic Catastrophe" (recommended to me by Professor
Chomsky), the Vietnamese invasion and food embargo caused 700,000
deaths in Cambodia in 1979. This is *seven* times as many people as had
died (in Chomsky's estimate) in East Timor.

Thus it would seem that the Soviet-armed and Soviet-supported
Vietnamese had, in one stroke, destroyed the single shred of argument
Chomsky had been presenting for the view that the United States is
"responsible" for most of the human rights violations in the
world. Yet not even that monumental act of inhumanity by Chomsky's and
Herman's comrades in Hanoi was necessary to disprove their thesis. It
is an easily calculated fact that either the Maoist regime alone
(whose executed and imprisoned victims number in the millions) or the
Pol Pot regime alone (whose murder victims are estimated at nearly two
million) has killed more than the combined total of *all* civilians
killed by American-armed and aided regimes in Asia, Latin America, and
the Middle East, and the Indonesian invaders of East Timor. Even the
Idi Amin regime, which according to Amnesty International probably
murdered up to 300,000 Ugandans, far outstrips the domestic death toll
of all America's third world "clients" combined. Amin at "peace" has
probably killed many times more than Indonesia at war. He was not
armed and aided by the United States, but by the Soviet Union and
Libya. These facts are known to any minimally literate student of
international affairs, but they are ignored by Chomsky and Herman.

Finally, if this central thesis needs any further rebuttal, it must be
stated that when the United States, or the Soviet Union for that
matter, supplies a given country with arms and aid, it does not
automatically follow that the recipient becomes part of the great
power's "sphere of influence." First the simple fact tells us nothing
about the relative importance of U.S. or Soviet arms and aid, compared
with other external sources. Second, this fact alone tells us nothing
about the dependency of the particular regime upon the external
sources for its domestic stability. Third, the validity of the
connection between arms and aid on the one hand, and a "sphere of
influence" on the other, must be demonstrated empirically, by
observable criteria. It cannot be assumed to be true a priori. Fourth,
the period of aid provision must be related to the time of a
recipient's repression.

This last point is no mere piece of logical nitpicking. Chomsky and
Herman make the repression in Argentina (and alleged American
responsibility) one of the centerpieces of their argument. Yet while
the United States had supplied Argentina with considerable assistance
over many years before 1977, it was only in 1976 that the truly
repressive Videla regime came to power. Within a year of the Videla
coup, once the nature of the Argentinian junta had been clearly
established, the United States terminated its arms sales to
Argentina. Furthermore, the United States has continually denounced
Argentinian repression in international forums, where the Soviet Union
has come to the defense of a country that Chomsky and Herman would
classify a U.S. satellite. And on a recent crucial issue for
U.S. foreign policy the grain embargo of the Soviet Union in
retaliation for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan Chomsky's "American
satellite" rejected its "master's orders" and played a vital role in
sabotaging the boycott.

So far I have focused my attention on flaws in the basic argument of
the book. These are sufficient reasons in themselves for discarding
it. But when we examine Chomsky and Herman's empirical research,
especially with regard to Indochina, we find the most disturbing
feature of their work.

The facts about post-1975 Indochina are fairly well-established. The
repression of the Vietnamese, Laotian, and Kampuchean Communists is
exceptional by international standards. The Khmer Rouge in particular
have a record of brutality and mass murder which compares unfavorably
with that of the two greatest tyrants of our century Hitler and
Stalin. Yet for the entire period since 1975 Chomsky has devoted an
enormous amount of his time to the task of trying to discredit
accounts of repression in Indochina, while promoting accounts which
paint a more benign picture of the new orders.

What is most disturbing however is not Chomsky's denial of the truth;
far more serious are the methods he uses to deny the truth. For
Linguistics professor Chomsky, here working in conjunction with
Finance professor Herman, has adopted the halo of Professional
Scholar, armed with hundreds of footnotes to give the pretence of
serious and balanced inquiry. Yet the footnotes cannot stand serious
scrutiny. What Chomsky and Herman do over and over again is to present
the most tenuous and unreliable sources as firm and credible evidence,
while dismissing. the contradictory accounts of eyewitnesses whose
past record (often of support for the Communist movement) makes them
highly credible sources. The Chomsky-Herman technique involves
character assassination of the people they disagree with and quite
elaborate distortion and misrepresentation of their opponent's
views. There are even instances of widely reported and credible
evidence (published in newspapers Chomsky and Herman are happy to
quote when it suits them) not even being mentioned at all.

First, let us briefly summarize the "human rights" record of the
Vietnamese Communists since 1975. Instead of embarking on a program of
"national reconciliation and concord," as provided for in the Paris
Peace Agreements they signed in 1973 and as promised in the policy
platforms which they had promulgated for over fifteen years, the
Vietnamese Communists embarked on a policy of revengeful
repression. They arrested and incarcerated hundreds of former military
officers, civil servants, intellectuals, and religious leaders. Under
the guise of re-education these Vietnamese victims of "liberation"
were confined most of them indefinitely in prisons and forced labor
camps of Hanoi's gulag. Except for a fortunate minority whose families
were able to obtain their release through bribery, the majority were
condemned to a slow death through overwork, malnutrition, and disease.
None of the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have been
formally charged with anything. Many have deported to the new economic
zones (NEZs). The NEZs are. remote, inhospitable regions of the
country, comparable to the Siberian exile long employed by Hanoi's

As if these atrocities did not suffice, the Hanoi regime in 1978 began
a racist pogrom against its ethnic Chinese citizens. The regime
deported those without gold or jewellery to China or the NEZs and
expelled those who could afford to pay the massive exit bribe in
unseaworthy boats into the South China Sea. This racist policy, like
the earlier repressive policies, elicited the protest of the civilized
wing of the American antiwar movement, led by Joan Baez. But it did
not raise a murmur from Professor Chomsky and friends. The
distinguished professor of Linguistics was too busy trying to prove
that it couldn't all be true. For Chomsky and Herman there were only
two questions to be asked about the issue of Vietnam: whose interests
were being served by all these "negative reports," and how could the
reports be disproved?

Chomsky and Herman continually emphasise how the picture of Vietnam I
have just presented is useful for "reconstructing the imperial
ideology" of American capitalism. The objective of their reiteration
cannot be to rationally convince their readers of the truth of the
situation. The objective is rather to affect emotionally the attitude
of their less sophisticated readers. After all, Chomsky and Herman
fail to make the equally obvious observation that their own point of
view serves the interest of the Communist rulers of Indochina.

When we turn to an examination of the truth of the situation in
Vietnam, we get a rapid acquaintance with "anti-imperialist"
techniques of scholarly inquiry, Chomsky and Herman quote a string of
foreign journalists and political activists who had been allowed to
visit Vietnam for varying periods after 1975. All of these favorable
reports are by foreigners, all of whom had been screened by the Hanoi
authorities for their past political writings and activities, and few
of whom had actually lived in Vietnam for an extended period of
Communist rule. Chomsky and Herman are quite uncritical of these
accounts of life under the new order, challenging neither the
typicality of their observations, nor their personal integrity. Many
of these accounts have been published in the most obscure of political
newsletters, with names like New England Peacework and The
Disciple. Yet these reports are simply taken at face value.

A different standard is taken towards accounts of Vietnam which cast
the regime in an unfavorable light. This countervailing evidence of
repression comes not only from scores of refugees, interviewed by the
experienced correspondents of some of the world's most prestigious
newspapers (especially including Pulitzer Prize winner Henry Kamm of
The New York Times, George McArthur of the Los Angeles Times, and
R.P. Paringaux of Le Monde). The evidence also comes from five highly
articulate and exceptionally credible eyewitnesses four Vietnamese and
one French all of whom had actually lived under both Communist and
non-Communist regimes for several years, and several of whom had been
actively opposed to both the former Thieu regime and the United
States. Two of these direct eyewitness accounts (by Andre Gelinas and
Nguyen Cong Hoan) are dismissed, after some nasty attempts at
character assassination and misrepresentation of their views, simply
on the grounds that the (previously mentioned) foreign visitors didn't
see what these local residents saw.

Gelinas is subject to particularly spiteful abuse. The bulk of his
analysis of repression in Vietnam, and the evidence he presents for
it, are not even discussed. Instead, Chomsky hones in on a few
carelessly worded statements, wrenches them out of their context, and
gives them a significance which is not to be found in the article
itself. For example in the context of discussing tensions between the
Northern communists and the Southerners, Gelinas mentions the
demoralization of northern troops after they witnessed the fact that
life in South Vietnam had not been as grim as their own propaganda had
been suggesting. Gelinas says:

"They had been told that they had come to liberate their brothers
who were miserable, enslaved by the Americans, etc. They had
discovered a country with freedoms, and a rich one, a real Ali
Baba's cave. They discovered above all that they were not welcomed
as "liberators" but that they were more often hated. And not this
time by the French or Americans, but by Vietnamese like

The meaning of these sentences was clear to anyone who read the
article. However, Chomsky, a specialist in linguistics, choose to
ignore the context in crudely extracting the words that suited his

"In the widely cited interview that made his fame, he writes that
the North Vietnamese troops who conquered the South 'discovered a
country with freedoms, and a rich one, a real Ali Baba's cave'."

From this Chomsky infers that Gelinas must have been part of the
U.S. "colonialist enterprise," for such a statement indicates either
blindness or cynicism towards the poverty and misery of Vietnam.

Note that Chomsky and Herman have not dealt with Gelinas' main point
that the Northern troops were disillusioned with the gap between their
propaganda induced expectations and reality. It is a point that has
been made time and time again by refugees. Yet Chomsky and Herman
don't have to deal with that point. Thanks to a careful manipulation
of Gelinas' text, readers don't even now that the point was made. The
entire substance of Gelinas' testimony is dealt with in this way. His
extensive and complex analysis is systematically caricatured beyond
recognition. Other important eyewitness accounts are dealt with
differently. The published Congressional testimony of Nguyen Van Coi,
who was tortured by the Hanoi regime, is mentioned without criticism,
but only in a footnote!

Finally, two equally compelling eyewitness accounts of the gulag by
former inmates the former antiwar, anti-Thieu, anti-American political
activist Doan Van Toai and Nguyen Huu Hieu are not even mentioned at
all! This is in spite of the fact that Toai's Paris press conference
account was published in every major French newspaper (from France
Soir, through the liberal Le Monde, to the socialist Le Matin and
Liberation) and the liberal and leftist weekly magazines (L'Express
and Le Nouvel Observateur), which Chomsky often refers to when they
support a conclusion he is defending. Toai's press conference was
reported well before Chomsky and Herman finished their book and was
also excerpted in Newsweek and The Observer. Toai had a major impact
in Europe and went on to write a best-selling book published in five
languages. Later, he and a former Buddhist monk, Nguyen Huu Hieu went
on a lecture tour of the United States, and their accounts were
published in many newspapers, including the Washington Post and the
Boston Globe. It seems that Chomsky and Herman never caught sight of
any of this.

It is remarkable how these crusaders for the truth are able to
discover sources nobody has ever heard of (like Vietnam Southeast Asia
Journal, New England Peacework, and The Disciple), chide as
propagandists those who overlook these "important sources" of
traveler's tales, but then themselves fail to find important
eyewitness reports which appear in ten major newspapers in three
countries. Professor Chomsky's research assistant at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, should at least be informed of the existence
of the Boston Globe.

The above oversight is not unique. There are other classic instances
of Chomsky and Herman falling down in their research. One of Chomsky's
principal sources for the view that Hanoi is not all that bad, happens
to be the well-known French journalist and biographer of Ho Chi Minh,
Jean Lacouture. Chomsky strongly recommends the account given by Jean
Lacouture and his wife, based on a visit to Vietnam in 1976. Though
not uncritical of the new regime, it paints a fairly optimistic
picture of the regime's goals and methods. Chomsky quotes Lacouture's
statement that the Vietnamese Communists "are probably the first
victors in a civil war (embittered and aggravated by two foreign
interventions) who have not unleashed any operation of massive
reprisal." Chomsky and Herman then bemoan the fact that Lacouture's
book could not find an American publisher and was not reviewed in the
United States. This is seen as further evidence of how the liberal
press suppresses information that contradicts the "imperial ideology."

What the authors fail to mention, however, is that Lacouture no longer
holds the views Chomsky and Herman are so eager to quote. Under the
influence of the aforementioned Doan Van Toai and others, Lacouture
has changed his opinions and now holds the view of Vietnam which
Chomsky and Herman are trying to discredit. But we must not be too
harsh on Chomsky and Herman; after all, Lacouture only became "a
defender of the interests of U.S. imperialism" a year before the
Chomsky-Herman book went to press. What with all the backcopies of The
Disciple and New England Peacework to go through, no wonder Chomsky,
Herman, and the MIT-Wharton School research team had not time to keep
up with the views of the people they were quoting.

Finally, let us take a look at how Chomsky and Herman deal with those
few eyewitness sources they dare to quote before discarding them. Take
the case of Nguyen Cong Hoan. Hoan was a former Third Force Buddhist
opponent of Thieu and the United States during the Vietnam War. Hoan's
"progressive" credentials were such that the Vietnamese Communist
regime offered him a seat in the rubber-stamp Vietnamese National
Assembly. Hoan's background, as a privileged member of the new regime
who chose to flee to an uncertain future in the United States, makes
him a very important source indeed.

In a series of interviews with The New York Times, and later in
Newsweek, the Free Trade Union News and extended testimony before the
House of Representatives Subcommittee on Human Rights, Hoan described
the massive network of prisons and "re-education camps" which litter
the Vietnamese countryside, crammed with hundreds of thousands of
prisoners. He also gives the first account from a reliable source, of
the mass executions which have taken place since the Communist
victory. Hoan also speaks of the restriction on freedom of movement
and the persecution of religion. Much of this was observed at first
hand, from his privileged position as member of the Communist National

But Chomsky and Herman have enormous difficulty accepting Hoan's

"How credible is his testimony in general? His account of
religious persecution is expressly contradicted by direct
observations of Westerners and Vietnamese who lived in or visited

Hoan's account is confirmed by far more credible sources than the
guided tourists and foreign friends Chomsky has so much faith in. The
Central Executive Council of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam,
in a statement issued in Ho Chi Minh City on June 9, 1977, levelled
all the charges of political as well as religious repression which
Hoan has made abroad. The Buddhist leadership was at the center of
militant anti-American and anti-government activity during the Vietnam
War. Their statement was smuggled out of Vietnam and released in
several different places.

It was published in 1978 in a detailed study of religious repression
in Vietnam undertaken by the noted antiwar activist, the Reverend
James Forest. The Forest study, entitled The Unified Buddhist Church
of Vietnam: Fifteen years for reconciliation, confirms the accounts of
Hoan and others that there are "hundreds of thousands suffering and
dying in the re-education camps," that corruption among party and
government officials is rampant, and that there is systematic
discrimination in favor of party and government officials and their
families, with regard to schooling, health services, and other social
amenities. The study by the Reverend Forest, with its meticulous
documentation of its major charges, was sent to prominent members of
the American antiwar movement. Somehow or other, Chomsky and Herman
never saw or heard anything of the report.

Hoan's report of religious persecution had also been confirmed by the
Venerable Thich Mian Giac, a Buddhist monk who had served as liaison
between the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and the Communist
government, before fleeing by boat from Vietnam. Giac's report of
imprisoned monks and priests, smashed religious statues, sacked
pagodas, and persecuted religious organizations was contained in an
interview published in the Washington Post on February
10,1978. Somehow or other Chomsky and Herman never came across the
Washington Post on that day. Nor did they see the issue of April 30,
1978, which contained a long article based on excerpted interviews
with several former inmates of Hanoi's re-education camps. Nor did
they see Paris Match of December 8, 1978, which published detailed
accounts by three former political prisoners. The cited articles are
just the most spectacular example of an enormous number of overlooked
pieces of evidence. Such defects in scholarship enable the authors to
reach the following dismissive conclusion:

"Either the many visitors and westerners living in Vietnam who
expressly contradict his claims are, once again, lying, or a
charade of astonishing proportions is being enacted--or, more
plausibly, Hoan is simply not a reliable commentator."

The authors never even discuss the possibility that the carefully
selected foreign visitors might have been lying, or else subjected to
an astonishing charade. Without a shred of supporting evidence or even
logic they simply leap to the dogmatic and unwarranted conclusion that
Hoan is unreliable. This defamatory slur is unjustified not only on
the basis of direct evidence, but there are also good historical
precedents for believing a man of Hoan's background. During the eras
of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, contemporary observers also had to
evaluate "contradictory evidence." Refugees and defectors then gave
"negative" accounts of concentration camps, police terror, and
deportations, while Western visitors saw not such things. That the
refugees were reliable informants and foreign visitors unreliable is
not an indubable part of the historical record. Some of the foreign
visitors were lying. (for money or a "higher cause"); others were
simply deceived. All were being used as propagandists by the regime.

Chomsky and Herman make no reference to this very relevant historical
experience in evaluating what they think is "contradictory evidence."
After all the Vietnamese communists are, and always have been, great
admirers of Joseph Stalin. Stalin gave the Vietnamese Communists their
moral and political unbringing in the Soviet Union of the 1930s. It is
to be expected that a regime which still lists Stalin in its pantheon
of moral and political heroes and which borrowed most of its political
institutions from the Stalinist USSR would ipso facto have a Stalinist
attitude to human rights. It is also to be expected that Stalin's
enthusiastic students would conceal their crimes with the same
techniques that he used, especially visitors visas for "friends"
only. Such expectations are confirmed by what the refugees and
defectors tell us.

But just in case the foreign friends don't have quite the stomach for
all the necessities of history, there is also the model prison, the
model re-education camp, and the model new economic zone. Have Chomsky
and Herman not heard of the concept of a Potemkin village? Have they
not heard of Theresienstadt, the camp where famous Jews were kept
alive and well by the Nazis, for the publicized visits of an earlier
generation of Richard Dudmans and John Frasers? Have Chomsky and
Herman not heard of Stalin's Bolshevo Prison, or Mao's Peking Prison
Number One? Do they think that the former Archbishop of Canterbury,
Hewlett Johnson was a credible observer because he had been able to
travel around the Soviet Union in the 1930s and came out convinced
that Stalin was a decent man? Johnson was after all a "devoted
Christian," like the "devoted Christian" delegates of the Americans
Friends Service Committe, who have nothing but praise for the
re-education camps they were shown in Vietnam and of whose accounts
Chomsky and Herman suspend all critical judgment.

Finally let us turn to the moral climax of the Chomsky-Herman book
their apologies for Pol Pot. Little needs to be said about the Pol Pot
regime, a regime so odious that it compares unfavorably with those of
Hitler and Stalin. The facts about the brutality of the Khmer Rouge
were known as early as 1975, though it took most Americans until 1978
to express widespread concern by which time possibly two million
Cambodians were already dead. (On this horror story, as with the
repression in Vietnam, American liberal consciences were lagging about
a year behind those of the democratic left in France.) The extent of
the bizarre cruelty of the Khmer Rouge was first reported by several
Western journalists who from their refuge in the French Embassy
[witnessed?] the forced depopulation of Phnom Penh. Stories of mass
executions and even more deaths from overwork, malnuitrition, and
disease began to trickle out from those refugees lucky enough to
escape their villages and avoid the armed patrols and minefields which
blocked their escape route to Thailand. Refugee accounts were
published in a variety of newspapers around the world.

Later, John Barron and Anthony Paul attempted to conduct their own
refugee interviews in order to provide a more systematic account of
the Holocaust. Their book Murder of a Gentle Land reported cruelty
reminiscent of Nazi death camps. Because Barron and Paul were
politically conservative, many intellectuals in the West refused to
take any notice of the story they were presenting. It took another
study, by Francois Ponchaud, a French priest with previous sympathies
for the Khmer Rouge, to persuade the most stubborn doubters. By 1978
most people in the Western world had come to realize that hell on
earth had been created in Democratic Kampuchea.

The belated shock of these revelations of horror stirred Professor
Chomsky to write in defense of Pol Pot. The 160 pages of The Political
Economy of Human Rights which deal with Cambodia represent the most
recent and extensive effort in this vein. One hopes it will be the
last. Chomsky and Herman use much the same scholarly techniques which
we saw employed in their attempts to whitewash the Hanoi regime. They
attempt to discredit their opponents by challenging their integrity,
or by taking issue with some point of detail which they then blow out
of all proportion, suggesting the rest of the study is
questionable. Chomsky and Herman then drag out the most obscure
authors, some published in the most obscure magazines or newsletters
and some not even published at all, and accuse the Western media of
having suppressed their reports. In contrast with their fine-tooth
comb examination of the books by Ponchaud and Barron and Paul, Chomsky
and Herman abandon all critical scrutiny when it comes to the pro-Pol
Pot reports. Not only do they fail to notice that some of the
"scholarly counterevidence" in favour of Pol Pot relies almost solely
on the regimes official regime publications and radio broadcasts; once
again they fail to take note of the fact that some of their "scholarly
sources" have now renounced the views which Chomsky and Herman are
still quoting.

It is impossible to deal with all the instances of "anti-imperialist"
methodology employed in the Cambodia chapter. I will confine myself
to illustrative instances. Chomsky and Herman wish to cast doubt on
the reports of a brutal, forced evacuation of Pnomh Penh. The reports,
written by Sidney Schanberg of The New York Times and Jon Swain of The
Times (London), were based solely on personal observation from their
refuge in the French embassy. Schanberg and Swain observed numerous
bizarre details, including the crippled and severely wounded being
forced to crawl or being wheeled in their hospital beds by their
relatives out into the countryside.

But Chomsky and Herman are not convinced. They have managed to come
across an important, hitherto undiscovered document which casts the
whole issue in a new light. It is nothing less than News From
Kampuchea, a broadsheet published by Khmer Rouge sympathizers living
in Australia. In this important publication Chomsky and Herman have
found a very different account of the evacuation. It is by the noted
authority Shane Tarr and his wife Chou Meng, New Zealand residents
whose principal claim to fame is the pro-Pol Pot newsletter they
co-edit. The Tarrs also claim to have participated in the long march
out of Phnom Penh into the countryside, but after three days returned
(or were returned) to the French Embassy to await their deportation
from the country. The Tarrs claimed that the march was not forced,
that everyone was willing to go, and that there was no suffering or
executions as the insidious Western press reported. They were happy to
have been able to participate in the "wonderful" revolution.

Chomsky and Herman don't seem to know anything about these important
authorities, other than the fact that they claim that their glowing
reports were rejected by several newspapers in New Zealand and that
Swain mentioned them in his article as having espoused revolutionary
rhetoric and as having fraternized with the Khmer Rouge guards outside
the embassy walls. Chomsky and Herman seem to think that the Tarrs,
about whose background and, hence, intelligence and integrity they
know nothing, are as credible as two professionally trained
journalists working for two of the world's best newspapers, whose
background is on the public record.

This question of background is of particular relevance with regard to
Sydney Shanberg's account. For in an earlier article published a few
days before the Communist victory, Schanberg had welcomed the end of
the war, expressed his doubts about U.S. government predictions of a
Khmer Rouge bloodbath, and declared that nothing could be worse than
continuation of the war. Even his account of the deportations and his
own evacuation was careful not to go beyond direct observation. Then,
and for some time after, Schanberg refused to make any statement of
moral condemnation of the Khmer Rouge. All of this should have been
sufficient to convince a reasonably impartial analyst that Schanberg
was an experienced observer with no "anti-Communist axe to grind," and
that what he claims they saw actually did occur.

Chomsky and Herman's polemic continues on this level. They tell us
about another important authority, whom the ideologically blinded
Western press has overlooked. It is Ben Kiernan, described as "an
Australian scholar" of Cambodia, who has published in important
journals like the Melbourne Journal of Politics. What Chomsky and
Herman don't tell us is that Kiernan is a graduate student at an
Australian university, and that his first important, overlooked study
was published in the journal of the Melbourne University department of
political science's undergraduates. It is a journal specifically
designed for student contributions.

Kiernan later managed to get published in Australian Outlook, a
journal open to professors as well as graduate students. But his work
here, as elsewhere, hardly constitutes a challenge to the Barron and
Paul or Ponchaud books. It is based largely on a hypothesis that
perhaps Khmer Rouge terror was localized to the northwest of the
country and not a result of central state direction. Our valiant
crusaders against "distortions at fourth hand" never tell us that
Kiernan relied heavily on official regime publications, newspaper
reports and mysterious second-hand accounts. Even more depressing for
our anti-imperialist authors is the fact that their scholarly source
has since disowned his "important studies" and admitted he was wrong
about Pol Pot.

Another mysterious source that Chomsky and Herman continually refer to
in their expose of the failure of Western reporting on Cambodia is
Michael Vickery, whose scholarly efforts have been deliberately
ignored by the "ideologically blinkered Western liberal
intelligentsia." Who is Michael Vickery? That's not at all clear. He
is not identified by an institutional affiliation. He is simply
described as a "Khmer-speaking westerner who is an academic specialist
on Cambodia." He doesn't seem to have published much either. In fact
Chomsky only refers briefly to what appears to be Vickery's major
publication a contribution to the magazine Westerly.

Chomsky and Herman don't tell us much about this neglected repository
of scholarship for good reason. Anybody with the time and energy to
work though the Library of Congress will be rewarded with the
discovery that Westerly is an Australian literary quarterly! One is
left wondering whether Vickery's important suppressed views on
Cambodia are in fact poems or short stories. But it is only fair to
point out that the crusaders against U.S. imperialist propaganda are
not relying solely on the important Westerly piece. Vickery's main
scholarly work, judging by the number of pages Chomsky and Herman
devote to it, is a long letter he has written to Chomsky. How the
Western press managed to overlook this document is not clear, but the
oversight certainly raises questions about their integrity. Still, one
is left puzzled about who Michael Vickery actually is. Is he a Harvard
professor of Khmer Civilization? Or is he perhaps a Melbourne
taxidriver, with an unrecognized talent for scholarly letterwriting?
Unfortunately, the man who singlehandedly discovered Vickery's
talents, Noam Chomsky, does not enlighten us on this matter.

There remains only one question to be asked: how is a book like this
possible? How can two professional academics, employed by two of this
nation's most prestigious universities, dare to write a book which is
such a travesty of academic standards?

The answer is unfortunately a simple one. The authors are totalitarian
political ideologues, with an intense emotional commitment to the
cause of anti-Americanism. Operating on the principle that "my enemy's
enemy is my friend" they have wholeheartedly embraced the struggle of
two of the world's most ruthlessly brutal regimes. The standards of
professional conduct, which they are capable of applying in their
professional fields, simply collapse in the face of the political task
to which they have committed themselves.

But the attempt to whitewash or apologize for tyranny was not the only
option open to Professors Chomsky and Herman. Many members of the
European left have had the courage to admit that the political
movements whose victory they had advocated for so many years were now
morally indefensible. Unfortunately for the credibility of America's
new left, its most prominent spokesmen have been unable to muster such

Russil Wvong

Aug 11, 2003, 3:12:02 AM8/11/03
This review's been discussed before, and some dubious statements noted:

I thought it was worth posting, though. (The only other place it's
posted on the Internet is on a Holocaust-denial website.)


Stephen Denney

Aug 12, 2003, 2:49:52 PM8/12/03
to Stephen Denney

Russil Wvong <> wrote:
> This review's been discussed before, and some dubious statements noted:
> I thought it was worth posting, though. (The only other place it's
> posted on the Internet is on a Holocaust-denial website.)

I believe you are referring to Serge Thion, a colleague of Noam Chomsky,
who set up a website on the Cambodia debate a few years ago (and also on
the Faurrison debate).

- Steve Denney

> Russil
> > Chomsky on U.S. foreign policy
> > HARVARD INTERNATIONAL REVIEW, 3, 4, December-January 1981

> -- end of forwarded message --

Russil Wvong

Aug 12, 2003, 5:15:33 PM8/12/03
Stephen Denney <sde...@OCF.Berkeley.EDU> wrote:
> > I thought it was worth posting, though. (The only other place it's
> > posted on the Internet is on a Holocaust-denial website.)
> I believe you are referring to Serge Thion, a colleague of Noam Chomsky,
> who set up a website on the Cambodia debate a few years ago (and also on
> the Faurrison debate).

Yes, it's part of a collection on Cambodia put together by Thion.

The website where it's hosted ( doesn't appear to be run
by Thion, though. It's maintained by an organization calling
itself "Radio Islam"; it appears to be based in Sweden.

Radio Islam is working to promote increased and better relations
between the West and the Muslim World.

Radio Islam is against racisms of all kinds and forms, against
all kinds of discrimination of people based on their colour of
skin, faith or ethnical background. Consequently, Radio Islam is
against Jewish racism towards non-Jews.

The World Jewish Zionism, today, constitutes the last racist
ideology still surviving and the Zionist's state of Israel, the
last outpost of "Apartheid" in the World.

Israel constitutes by its mere existence a complete defiance to
all international laws, rules and principles, and the open racism
manifested in the Jewish State is a violation of all ethics and
morals known to Man.

Besides Holocaust denial literature, it's got the Protocols of the
Elders of Zion and other such anti-Jewish propaganda.

Russil Wvong
Vancouver, Canada


Aug 13, 2003, 2:20:46 AM8/13/03
Russil Wvong <> wrote in message news:<>...

> This review's been discussed before, and some dubious statements noted:
> I thought it was worth posting, though. (The only other place it's
> posted on the Internet is on a Holocaust-denial website.)
> Russil

Thanks, Russil. I think most of Morris' points are valid. It's the
only serious academic critique of PEHR that's been published (As far
as I know) so it's definitely worth reading.

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