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Andrew Anthony on the Odious, Mendacious Noam Chomsky

Anthony writes, in the Observer:

Reply: t's worth taking a look at Professor Chomsky's selection of quotes in his response to my piece. For example, he notes that he described Francois Ponchaud's book as "serious and worth reading". This is true, but what he doesn't say is that he also called it 'fast and loose with quotes and numbers", "careless, sometimes in rather significant ways" , or that he argued that it suffers from "an anti-Communist bias". By contrast, no such criticisms were made of Hildebrand and Porter's book, which was based largely on Khmer Rouge propaganda.

Professor Chomsky made the following comparison between Hildebrand and Porter's grotesque misrepresentation of what was actually happening in Cambodia and Ponchaud's historically accurate account: Ponchaud "lacks the documentation provided in Hildebrand and Porter and its veracity is therefore difficult to assess". The implication here is that Hildebrand and Porter's veracity was more straightforward to assess - ie based on fact. In actuality it was a travesty. Not only did they fabricate the reality of the Khmer Rouge before the revolution, but they swallowed whole the Khmer Rouge propaganda after the revolution.

For instance, they argued that the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh, which was estimated to have cost 20,000 lives, was designed to avoid famine. This was of course a KR fiction. As the historian Philip Short has conclusively shown in his biography of Pol Pot, the real intention behind the evacuation - quoting from a KR central committee study document - was 'to preserve the political position of cadres and combatants, to avoid a solution of peaceful evolution which could corrode [the revolution] from within; to fight corruption, degradation, debauchery, to get the urban population to take part in [agricultural] production; [and] to remove Sihanouk's support base.'

Professor Chomsky then goes on to quote from the American preface of Cambodia Year Zero in which Ponchaud praises Chomsky's 'responsible attitude and precision of thought'. I wonder why he doesn't mention that Ponchaud also describes how Chomsky had called upon him to "'stem the flood of lies' about Cambodia ? particularly, according to him, those propagated by Anthony Paul and John Barron in their book Murder of a Gentle Land"? Could it be because this "flood of lies" refers to the mass murder, torture and starvation that Paul and Barron said was taking place in Cambodia.

Thankfully Ponchaud stuck to the job of telling the truth he had learned. Perhaps this is why Chomsky later wrote of Ponchaud:

What are we to think of a person who is quite capable of reaching an international audience, at least with atrocity stories, and who could see with his own eyes what was happening to the Khmer peasants subjected to daily massacres as the war ground on, but kept totally silent at a time when a voice of protest might have helped to mitigate their torture? It would be more charitable to assume that Ponchaud is simply not telling the truth when he speaks of his sympathy for the Khmer peasants and for the revolution, having added these touches for the benefit of a gullible Western audience...

It's up to the reader to decide who is doing the manufacturing here. I shall just make three brief points. First, however we may choose to interpret Chomsky's judgment on Ponchaud, we know that Caldwell believed that it served to damage Ponchaud's credibility, because that is what Caldwell wrote in the Guardian on 8 May 1978.

Secondly, nothing in my piece vilified Malcolm Caldwell in the way, say, that Professor Chomsky has vilified those with whom he disagrees -- such as the American war correspondent Sydney Schanberg, made famous by his portrayal in the film The Killing Fields, whom Chomsky has described as a 'person of utter depravity'. Nor did I insult Caldwell in the way that Caldwell insulted the victims of Khmer Rouge terror, whom he described as 'arch quislings' and 'lackeys'. So I think we can be spared this self-righteous and self-serving line about 'vilify[ing] the messenger'.

Finally, the charge that my piece was designed in the 'interests of power' may sound like paranoid hysteria, but it's really just more evasion and blame-shifting. Power is what the Khmer Rouge wielded over its millions of victims while Caldwell applauded. That is documented history. What's more, it was documented by Ponchaud while it was happening. And it is in the interests of all who abhor what took place under the Khmer Rouge not to pretend otherwise.

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