Chomsky and the Khmer Rouge – The Observer

Chomsky and the Khmer Rouge

The Observer
February 8, 2010

In his prickly response Letters, 17 January to Andrew Anthony’s “Lost in Cambodia,” OM, 10 January 2010 Noam Chomsky does precisely what he accuses Anthony of doing:

“Vilify the messenger, to ensure that unwanted history is forgotten.”

That unwanted history is of Chomsky himself casting aspersions on  critics of the Khmer Rouge. During Pol Pot’s reign, Chomsky disputed the refugees themselves. Since Cambodia, he has expanded his game to North Korea and Bosnia. I must hand it to him – more than three decades after wagging his finger at refugees like myself in “Distortions at fourth hand” The Nation, 6 June 1977, and later in After the Cataclysm South End Press, 1979, he continues to quote selectively and to obfuscate. Chomsky’s formula is straightforward: 1 quote a critic saying something supportive of one little piece of an argument you wish to make; 2 needle other critics with it; and 3 repeat ad infinitum until you weave an entire tapestry with this flimsy thread. It is a game that only a linguist of Chomsky’s calibre can master.

I am merely a former Cambodian refugee, for whom English is my fourth language. Yet it does not take much effort to find precisely what Chomsky wrote in 1979 After the Cataclysm and to let it speak for itself:

“In the first place, is it proper to attribute deaths from malnutrition and disease to Cambodian authorities?”

Since my father died of malnutrition and disease, I am especially outraged by this question. While my family worked and died in rice fields, Chomsky sharpened his theories and amended his arguments while seated in his armchair in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I believe that he would probably have me blame the Americans and their bombs for causing everything around the Khmer Rouge to go wrong.

Incredibly, Chomsky and Ed Herman did precisely that when they claimed:

“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.”

Perhaps that study had already been undertaken but was ignored, as Chomsky and Herman intimate: “The situation in Phnom Penh resulting from the US war is graphically described in a carefully-documented study by Hildebrand and Porter that has been almost totally ignored by the press.” This is high praise for a book that contained a propaganda picture of a Khmer Rouge “hospital” operating room.

It just so happens that my father died in a mite-infested Khmer Rouge “hospital”. Nam Mon, an illiterate Khmer Rouge “nurse”, testified in July 2009 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal now taking place in Phnom Penh that all she did was hand out paracetamol and aspirin, no matter the malady. To be sure, her patients got the special treatment; they were prisoners at S-21, the Khmer Rouge killing machine that produced more than 17,000 deaths.

When it comes to allowing for honest error, Chomsky will have none of it. He refers for example to Father Ponchaud’s differing American and British editions of Cambodia: Year Zero as evidence of duplicity. If he had cared to check with the easily accessible French priest, he would have learned that the error was due to his translator, who submitted the wrong edition to the publisher.

Writing about American leaders in At War with Asia (Pantheon, 1970), Chomsky poignantly argued that:

“Perhaps someday they will acknowledge their ‘honest errors’ in their memoirs, speaking of the burdens of world leadership and the tragic irony of history. Their victims, the peasants of Indochina, will write no memoirs and will be forgotten. They will join the countless millions of earlier victims of tyrants and oppressors.”

Indeed, perhaps someday Chomsky will acknowledge his “honest errors” in his memoirs, speaking of the burdens of academia and the tragic irony of history. His victims, the peasants of Indochina, will write no memoirs and will be forgotten. They will be joined by his North Korean and Bosnian victims.

For decades, Chomsky has vilified his critics as only a world class linguist can. However, for me and the surviving members of my family, questions about life under the Khmer Rouge are not intellectual parlour games. While he is a legend in linguistics, in international affairs Noam Chomsky consistently falls short of Thomas Jefferson’s maxim that universities are “based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

Professor Sophal Ear
National Security Affairs
US Naval Postgraduate School
Monterey, California

via Letters: No one has the right to decide who lives or dies | From the Observer | The Observer.

  • ZA-guy

    I attended a year-long Army training course once w/a fellow who'd lost both parents to the Killing Fields. We watched his father get executed and was threatened with execution if he showed any emotion during it. His mother was interned at a "hospital" and simply disappeared. He continues a career in public service and his brother graduated MIT. Both staunch American AND Cambodian patriots.
    I recently toured the former Indochina and I can say without a doubt, the only happy, smiling faces to be seen were those who worked in the gleaming bastions of western "capitalism" and the occasional thriving small business. The rest were long-faced miserable souls. They all ream of reaching America.

  • Squid

    You give him too much credit. Chomsky's "work" in linguistics is laughably bad. His reputation rests on the twin pillars of fawning praise of similar left wing hacks and the fact that linguistics is a small, ingrown field that practically no one cares about. He is an extreme example of common leftist pathologies – utter disregard for the truth coupled with shameless self promotion.

  • badaboo

    Chomsky , a morally bankrupt intrellectual , who collects his medals of accredidation from the halls of academia , yet in a profound ignorance , realizes not the ultimate consequences of his words . Or …cares not , for his first consideration is to satisfy his own personal biases through sophisticated intellectual discourse .
    Drawing his conclusions based soley on the result , and with great intellectual dishonesy ignoring the cause , or distorting it , for the sole purpose of his own personal satisfaction , to state the outrageous , to slap the face of the victims , to be the elitist rrebel of the academic world .
    Education truly being no substitute for wisdom , Chomsky is indeed a pathetic character .

  • FBastiat
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  • BigMizness

    Chomsky is such a scumbag


    42 Ph.D. titles honoris causam. What did Chomsky do that big? Einstein and many other great men put together didn't gather that many Ph.D. titles, not even a fraction of that, all less than 5. My idea is that what has rendered Chomsky the titles is not his scientific work. He indeed is a very rare and valuable species: Antisemitic Jew.

  • Boredouttamymind

    What an incredibly boring "criticism".

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  • vuth

    I doubt if Sophal Ear has read Noam Chomsky’s books. He appeared to just quote the existing distorted quote…

    • Jacques Shellac

      He has actually read them in depth and commented on them extensively in his undergraduate honors thesis. You’re the one who seems ignorant of Chomsky’s obfuscation, so I suggest that you look up Sophal Ear’s work on the subject (“The Khmer Rouge Canon, 1975-1979″). There’s also a great article by Bruce Sharp (“Averaging Wrong Answers: Noam Chomsky and the Cambodian Controversy”) which supports Sophal Ear’s research and which is extensively researched as well. Following this is an attempted rebuttal thrown together by one of Chomsky’s numerous defenders (John Kenneth Rucell, “Evil Scholars? A Rebuttal”) that falls quite short (not much researched at all , and it ends with a rude quip about cleaning toilets), but which I expect you will be even more interested in – perhaps exclusively.

  • Walt

    Try reading some of his work:

    1970). Two Essays on Cambodia. ISBN 978-0950030067

    Or if you want a taste of his anti-Semetism:

    1983, 1999). The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 978-0896086012 ISBN 978-0896081871. He also had this little gem published with Noontide Press.

    Or, why not look into his support of a Holocaust Denier, such as Robert Faurisson(for whom he wrote a book preface).

  • Walt

    Noam Chomsky has written many things. You are not providing any source for your quote.

  • David Xavier

    "OK, so let's note a couple of things. Chomsky regards the Khmer Rouge as a violent system. It may be a consequence of previous U.S. bombing. That's not crazy."

    Chomsky is also saying that the "U.S assualt" was DESIGNED in part , to evoke the violent response of the Khmer Rouge ( The violence lurking behind the smile). The Viet Cong presence in Cambodia as a reason for the bombing is ignored. And the violence of the Khmer Rouge is not the fault of insane genocidal ideology implemented by Pol Pot …. but the fault of the evil U.S! That is indeed crazy.

  • Anon

    Apparently criticism of Israel is "anti-Semetism"? This charge never gets old nor is it apparent to those who make the charge that Palestinians are also Semites.

    Second of all, he never supported Robert Faurisson's views, only his right to express them. It was a position on free speech, which does NOT mean free speech only for views you agree with, but rather precisely for views you disagree with. He also didn't wrote the preface for Faurisson's book. He wrote a general essay on freedom of speech using Faurisson as an example (since it was a crime for Faurisson to express his views in the country he lived in). It was then used as preface to Faurisson's book without Chomsky's consent.