Friday, June 11, 2004

The Political Economy of Genocide Denial

A reader sent this excellent link which fisks (in very effective and original fashion) Chomsky's Nation article in which he denied the Khmer Rouge's slaughter of over a million of its own citizens. While this may not reach the level of Holocaust Denial (it took him a few more years to get there), at least in terms of body count, it is nonetheless one of the most horrendous intellectual atrocities of the twentieth century. In my opinion, it ranks with Heidegger's embrace of Nazism and the legions of intellectuals who genuflected before Stalin to the ugly, bitter end.

The fisk continues here, with a recent example of the most appalling aspect of this case: Chomsky's continued refusal to acknowledge his collaboration with political evil and his vicious assaults on those who would call him to account:

Dear Editor:
Anthony Lewis writes (June 23) that I "refused to believe what was going on in Cambodia," and "put the reports of killing down to a conspiratorial effort by American politicians and press to destroy the Cambodian revolution." The second charge is an invention. The first is his rendition of my suggestion that in dealing with horrendous crimes, one should try to keep to the truth, whoever the agent: for Cambodia, that means during both halves of the "decade of genocide," as the years 1969-79 are described in the one governmental inquiry (Finland). At the time I reviewed these and many other cases, including the "grisly" record of Khmer Rouge "barbarity."

More interesting than the invented charges is what Lewis omits: my comparison of two huge crimes of 1975-1978, Cambodia and East Timor. The cases are not identical. There was no constructive proposal as to how to end or even mitigate Pol Pot's crimes (as a check of Lewis's columns will illustrate). In contrast, there were easy ways to respond to the crimes in Timor, apparently the worst slaughter relative to population since the Holocaust: by withdrawing the decisive US military and diplomatic support for them. The reaction to the two cases is instructive, as is Lewis's conclusion that by describing Khmer Rouge crimes as comparable to those in Timor I was denying these crimes.

Noam Chomsky

In fact of course, he did not at first describe the Khmer Rouge crimes as comparable to those in Timor. In his 1977 article [1] he compared them to the French resistance against the Nazis and never mentioned Timor. In his 1979 book [11x] he compared them to the US occupation of Japan, and ridiculed the suggestion that they were comparable to the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

This illustrates quite well one of the ugliest aspects of Chomsky's work; his relentless refusal to adhere to the most elementary standards of truth and good faith argument. On its own it would be merely reprehensible, the fact that it is employed in defense of mass political slaughter is simply chilling.

There will be more on this subject soon.