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Chomsky lies:

Chomsky's articles are full of learned sounding citations, in which he cites all sorts of impeccably respectable sources for all sorts of astonishing facts. Highly improbable facts. How does he do it? Easy. He makes it up.

In Distortions at Fourth Hand [1] , Chomsky and Herman assure us that anything wrong in Cambodia was the fault of the USA, that there was decisive evidence proving the innocence of the Khmer Rouge, evidence which, alas, “space limitations preclude” them from presenting. 

I checked every citation in the entire article. Not one of them was wholly truthful. At best they were slippery equivocations, with the obvious meaning being a lie, and an alternate, hidden meaning, true but irrelevant, to provide an escape hatch should the lie be discovered.

Every citation was a lie in the sense that the material cited failed to support the conclusions that Chomsky leads the reader to believe it proves. In some cases the material cited supported similar but far weaker conclusions, in most cases the opposite – the material cited is evidence for the opposite of what Chomsky leads the reader to believe it shows, for example Schanberg on not seeing bodies

What Chomsky saidThe way it actually was

Distortions at Fourth Hand

Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman
The Nation, June 25, 1977

Books & The Arts

  • George C. Hildebrand and Gareth Porter. Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution. Monthly Review Press (1976).
  • Francois Ponchaud. Cambodge Année Zéro. Julliard Press. Paris (1977).
  • John Barron and Anthony Paul. Murder of a Gentle Land. Thomas Y. Crowell (1977).

On May 1, 1977, the New York Times published an account of the “painful problems of peace” in Vietnam by Fox Butterfield. He describes the “woes” of the people of the South, their “sense of hardship” and the grim conditions of their life, concluding that “most Southerners are said to appear resigned to their fate.” His evidence comes from “diplomats, refugees and letters from Vietnam.”

In journals of the War Resisters League and the American Friends Service Committee of March-May 1977, in contrast, there are lengthy reports by Carol Bragg on a visit to Vietnam earlier this year by a six-person AFSC delegation, including two who had worked in Vietnam and are fluent in Vietnamese. The group traveled widely in the South and spoke to well-known leaders of the non-Communist Third Force who are active in the press and government, as well as ordinary citizens. They report impressive social and economic progress in the face of the enormous destruction left by the war, a “pioneering life” that is “difficult and at times discouraging,” but everywhere “signs of a nation rebuilding” with commitment and dedication.

Butterfield claims that “there is little verifiable information on the new economic zones — no full-time American correspondents have been admitted since the war — but they are evidently not popular.” While it is true that American correspondents are not welcomed in Vietnam, there is nonetheless ample expert eyewitness testimony, including that of journalists of international repute, visiting Vietnamese professors from Canada, American missionaries and others who have traveled through the country where they worked for many years. Jean and Simonne Lacouture published a book in 1976 on a recent visit, critical of much of what they saw but giving a generally very positive account of reconstruction efforts and popular commitment. Max Ediger of the Mennonite Central Committee, who worked in Vietnam for many years and stayed for thirteen months after the war, testified before Congress in March 1977 on a two-week return visit in January, also conveying a very favorable impression of the great progress he observed despite the “vast destruction of soil and facilities inflicted by the past war.” There have also been positive accounts of the “new economic zones” in such journals as the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Canadian Pacific Affairs.

Chomsky and Herman ignore, rather than rebut, the more serious accusations made by Butterfield thus implicitly conceding that his account was true

They represent him as merely accusing the Vietnamese of being poor, when in fact he accused the communist government of Vietnam of being bloody, tyrannical, oppressive, and acting like a hostile alien enemy occupier.

Butterfield accuses the communists of tyranny, of making massive use of slave labor without much concern for the life and health of the slaves, and of routinely torturing people.

But none of this extensive evidence appears in the 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. On the other hand, protests by some former anti-war individuals against alleged human rights violations in Vietnam are given generous coverage. This choice of subject may be the only basis on which U.S. ― as opposed to Soviet ― dissidents can get serious attention in the mass media today.

This leads the reader to believe that no one in the press even suggested there was a bloodbath in Vietnam. The audience was eager to believe because they were painfully aware of such suggestions and suspected them to be true.

Back then when Chomsky and Herman wrote, the left, myself among them, all knew that something terrible was happening in Vietnam, though most now claim to remember otherwise. Today even Chomsky himself now remembers that no one in the press even suggested such a thing [12], though back then two months before he and Herman so indignantly complained of the failure to report the bloodbath as “missing”. the National Review told us [13]:

THE BLOODBATH is motivated not so much by hatred or revenge as by the necessity for the Communist system to purge itself of undesirable elements From a Marxist viewpoint political purge is a necessity in order to achieve political purity, a precondition to the building of socialism. Political purity ensures single mindedness, which in turn achieves high efficiency. The Vietnamese Communists, as they showed in their conduct of the war, are doctrinaire single minded, efficient. But not until all Vietnamese men, women, and children think the Communist way will political purity be achieved for the new nation as a whole. This is why indoctrination (“re-education” as they call it) is of prime importance. For those who are too old or too stubborn to change elimination is the only alternative.

The crimes committed by the North Vietnamese regime against the Vietnamese people were smaller than the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge against the Cambodians, but for us on the left they were emotionally far more significant.

When these Vietnamese crimes became known, the reaction of the left was ignore the facts, the details and evidence of the accusations, and attack the messenger, a reaction that was strikingly inconsistent with our self image as the conscience of the world, our image of ourselves as people who cared deeply about the welfare of faraway strangers. Today, most of the radical left comfortably remember these accusations that they so venomously condemned as never having been made.

What Chomsky saidThe way it actually was

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); and Carol Bragg, with her eyewitness testimony, in New England Peacework (circulation 2,500). Typically, reports which emphasize the destruction caused by the United States and the progress and commitment of the Vietnamese reach a tiny circle of peace activists. Reports that ignore the American role — Butterfield can only bring himself to speak of “substantial tracts of land made fallow [sic] by the war,” with no agent indicated — and 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.

It was inevitable with the failure of the American effort to subdue South Vietnam and to crush the mass movements elsewhere in Indochina, that there would be 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.

The press did not depict the occupation as “drab”, but as violent and criminal. If Chomsky intended to expose press bias then to deny that it made the harsh accusations that it did make seems an odd way of doing it.

It is a curiously feeble “system of thought control and indoctrination” if it merely accuses an enemy dictatorship of being “drab”.

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 (April 19, 1976) with the caption “True or False?” In fact, an attempt by a Thai trader to sell these photos to the Bangkok Post was turned down “because the origin and authenticity of the photographs were in doubt.” The photos appeared in another Thai newspaper two days before the April 4th election. The Bangkok Post then published them, explaining in an accompanying article that “Khmer watchers” were dubious about the clothes and manner of the people depicted, and quoting “other observers” who “pointed to the possibility 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.

This story was reported in the U.S./Indochina Report of the Indochina Resource Center in July 1976, along with the additional information that a Thai intelligence officer later admitted that the photos were indeed posed inside Thailand: “'Only the photographer and I were supposed to know,' he confided to a Thai journalist.” The full details were given in the International Bulletin (April 25, 1977; circulation 6,000). A letter of April 20 to the Washington Post on these points has not appeared. In short, the “freedom of the press” assures that readers of the International Bulletin will get the facts.

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. A hundred-word item buried in The New York Times of June 14, 1976, cites an official U.N. report that teams of “human buffaloes” pull plows in Laos in areas where the buffalo herds, along with everything else, were decimated (by the American bombing, although this goes unmentioned in the Times. Much the same is true in Vietnam. Quite possibly the U.N. or the Laotian Government could supply photographic evidence, but this would not satisfy the needs of current propaganda.

Chomsky and Herman find that “space limitations preclude” them from providing any examples of “repeated discoveries that massacre reports were false”, yet strangely they have plenty of space for a lengthy polemic about a photograph that may have been a mere re-enactment of real events, rather than a genuine photograph of real events.

Chomsky and Herman indignantly point out that it probably was not the fault of the Khmer Rouge that men were pulling ploughs. The accusation, however, was not that men were pulling, but that slaves were dropping dead in harness.  Chomsky and Herman's silence on that accusation is itself an admission.

They provide a very persuasive defense against the accusation that the Cambodians were poor, but the actual accusation was that the Khmer Rouge were mass murderers — that there was a very high rate of death from overwork among laborers who had been abducted for forced labor in places far from their homes. Again, if Chomsky's objective is to expose press bias, it is very strange that he conceals the very serious accusations that the press made.

The response to the three books under review nicely illustrates this selection process. 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.

Hildebrand and Porter's “very favorable picture” of Khmer Rouge rule is not based on a “wide range of sources” but on one single source: Official Khmer Rouge statements and documents. When they cite more reputable sources, it is for events that happened before the Khmer Rouge took charge, usually long before, or in one case for routine stuff that no one is likely to care much about.

It is a report of official reality, not the reality of the senses.  Even when they themselves visit Cambodia, they do not tell us what they heard and saw, but merely what officials told them they were seeing, as though they were blind.

Published last year, and well received by the journal of the Asia Society (Asia, March-April 1977), it has not been reviewed in the Times, New York Review or any mass-media publication, nor used as the basis for editorial comment, with one exception. The Wall Street Journal acknowledged its existence in an editorial entitled “Cambodia Good Guys” (November 22, 1976), which dismissed contemptuously the very idea that the Khmer Rouge could play a constructive role, as well as the notion that the United States had a major hand in the destruction, death and turmoil of wartime and postwar Cambodia. In another editorial on the “Cambodian Horror” (April 16, 1976), the Journal editors speak of the attribution of postwar difficulties to U.S. intervention as “the record extension to date of the politics of guilt.” On the subject of “Unscrambling Chile” (September 20, 1976), however, the abuses of the “manfully rebuilding” Chilean police state are explained away as an unfortunate consequence of Allendista “wrecking” of the economy.

In brief, Hildebrand and Porter attribute “wrecking” and “rebuilding” to the wrong parties in Cambodia. 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.

Perhaps Hildebrand and Porter's book was ignored because it was tedious, formulaic and predictable communist propaganda, the stuff that few but communists would buy, and not even communists would read.

In contrast, the media favorite, Barron and Paul's “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 analysed radio and refugee reports.

Barron and Paul's list of sources runs for 23 pages, and Chomsky must have searched long and hard through the entire 23 pages to find that handful of state sponsored sources among them.  The vast majority of sources were ordinary Cambodians, and most of the rest were western newsmen and Khmer Rouge radio. In contrast, Chomsky and Herman's favorite, Hildebrand and Porter's Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, merely recycles official Khmer Rouge propaganda.

The world was shocked to see the entire population of Phnom Penh taken from the capital to work in the fields by the casual application of summary execution, shocked to see desperately ill patients forced out of hospitals, the old, the sick, and the very young, forced on a journey they were unlikely to survive. The world had known, in an abstract sort of way, that this was happening, but when newsmen imprisoned in the French embassy saw the parade of misery and fear with their own eyes, heard the gunfire as the Khmer Rouge cleaned out those who failed to leave, it became real to them. The newsmen were horrified, and communicated their horror to their readers.

The Khmer Rouge, unlike previous communist regimes, abolished money and nearly all private property, applying a socialism far purer than the world had ever seen. Soon a trickle of refugees escaping their guards and fleeing across the borders brought tales of unrelenting horror and fear to the outside world.

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.”

Cazaux and Schanberg were in the group of newsmen imprisoned for a time in the French Embassy, and subsequently shipped out of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge.  When they got out, this group filed reports that shocked the world.

Barron and Paul cite neither Cazaux nor Schanberg as evidence that “virtually everybody saw the consequences” Indeed, they only cite Schanberg as evidence for foolishly optimistic early favorable perceptions of the Khmer Rouge [5], though they could easily have cited him for most of the rest — all of the newsmen gave very similar accounts.

Chomsky neglects to mention that the evacuation was not under the control of the journalists — the foreigners were captives of the Khmer Rouge, and Schanberg concluded that the reason they saw no corpses was because the Khmer Rouge made sure they did not. Schanberg also tells us that the Khmer Rouge nearly executed him for seeing what little he did see.

Schanberg [8] on not seeing corpses:

We suddenly turned right- that is, west-down the road to the airport, and this was puzzling because we were supposed to be heading north and northwest toward Thailand.

We did not know it yet, but this was to be the detour that kept us from seeing that early stretch of Route 5 north of Phnom Penh that had been clogged with refugees forced out of Phnom Penh and may now be dotted with bodies.

Our convoy started south west out of the capital down Route 4, then cut north along a rutted secondary road until we picked up Route 5 near Kompong Chhnang.

Cazaux does indeed remark he saw no dead bodies, though the context was not that he was scornfully suggesting that it was ridiculous to suggest that there were dead bodies, but rather in the context that “all that is certain is that none of the foreigners who saw the start of the revolution will be able to witness its progress.”

In the same newspaper article from which Chomsky quotes Cazaux [14] the chief surgeon at Calmette Hospital in Cambodia's capital, a Frenchman who came out with the last group of westerners, said that he had seen three hundred bodies with their throats cut in the capital's central market, consistent with Barron and Paul's remark about “bodies bloating in the hot sun”

If few among the western reporters saw the bodies bloating in the hot sun, that might well have been because they were locked up under guard at the time, and if none of it resembled the predicted mass executions, that was because the predicted mass executions had for the most part not yet begun. All the reporters in this group tell the same story, which is consistent with later news reports, and with Barron and Paul's story. A lot of people died because the aged, the sick, and those in the middle of operations in the hospital were forced to evacuate, a lot of people were summarily executed, though the predicted large scale executions of those associated with the former government had not begun, at least not on a large scale, and the reporters were prevented from seeing much of this because some of them were executed and the rest sent to the French embassy. There are disagreements as to when the predicted bloodbath of those associated with the former regime started and how fast it went, but the stories, early and later, are fairly consistent. The bloodbath started after the evacuation, either days or weeks after the evacuation, far from the cities and was largely complete several weeks or several months after the evacuation. We still do not know how fast the bloodbath of those associated with the former regime went, or precisely when it started, but we know now, and knew before Barron and Paul wrote, how hard it went. Almost none survived.

Barron and Paul discuss the predicted bloodbath in the third chapter, depicting it as a separate event from the summary executions in the capital described in the first chapter, something that happened later, after the evacuation, and in the wilderness far from the capital.

The New York Times, May 6, 1975, page one, reports the predicted mass executions of those associated with the former regime as beginning, which suggests they began a short time earlier, about the same time as Schanberg and Cazaux were transferred from their embassy prison to the trucks. Barron and Paul report the mass executions as starting earlier, on April 20, with the massacre of the soldiers of Battambang.  This, however was two hundred and fifty miles from the capital, on a mountain some distance from Battambang. They describe other massacres of soldiers of other provinces, far from Phnom Penh. They nowhere discuss where or when the execution of the largest group of members of the former government began, those who were captured in Phnom Penh. The CIA report Kampuchea: A Demographic Catastrophe [9] tells us that the Khmer Rouge executed about 100 000 people for their connections with the former regime over a period of nine months. This is the bloodbath that was predicted, and if it took nine months, then indeed at the time that Schanberg and Cazaux were put in the truck, then it was indeed true that the bloodbath did not yet “bear any resemblance to the mass executions that had been predicted by Westerners.”

And then, after the predicted bloodbath, came the unpredicted bloodbath, the surprising and shocking bloodbath, as the Khmer Rouge proceeded to exterminate class enemies, racial minorities, and all those members of the Khmer Rouge that were less saintly that the remarkably saintly top leaders of the Khmer Rouge. In the end it appears that about one million were executed [10], with most of those executed first being tortured, and about two million died of brutality, overwork, and hunger.

Chomsky and Herman force a false context on these reporters words to make them appear to contradict Barron and Paul, when they do not: The mass executions that Cazaux denies, and the bloodbath that Jon Swain denies, are not references to the summary executions depicted by Barron and Paul during the evacuation of Phnom Penh, but references to the expected massacre of everyone connected to former regime, a bloodbath that Barron and Paul depict as days after the evacuation, and occurring deep in the wilderness, a bloodbath that had scarcely begun at the time that many reporters denied that it had been completed.

They 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).

Notice that Chomsky and Herman strangely neglect to tell us where the words of any of these important witnesses to the innocence of the Khmer Rouge can be found. I managed to find Olle Tolgraven, LA Times, 1975 May 9, page 9. The LA Times quotes various people who were imprisoned in the embassy, and subsequently sent out of Cambodia on the same trucks as Cazaux and Schanberg, and he was one of them.

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.”

Again, Chomsky evasively avoided actually saying what every reader would think him to have said. It sounds as if Chomsky and Herman gave a citation to contradictory evidence, but they did not. By complaining of all those Barron and Paul do not mention, he implies that these sources provide contradictory evidence, while avoiding any actual statement that Tolgraven and the rest provided contradictory evidence. It sounds like a citation pointing to evidence proving Barron and Paul to be liars, when it merely points to a trail of breadcrumbs in a dark forest.

Barron and Paul claim that there is no evidence of popular support for the Communists in the countryside and that people “fled to the cities” as a result of the “harsh regimen” imposed by the Communists — not the American bombing. Extensive evidence to the contrary, including eyewitness reports and books by French and American correspondents and observers long familiar with Cambodia (e.g., Richard Dudman, Serge Thion, J.C. Pomonti, Charles Meyer) is never cited.

Perhaps the reason Barron and Paul neglect to cite that “evidence” that the bombing, not the communists, caused the flight to the cities is that the bombing ended nearly two years before the flight to the cities that they describe.

In broadcasts and interviews, the Khmer Rouge often referred to those that were captured after 1975 as “war criminals” or “prisoners of war” or similar terms, which tells us they regarded most Cambodians as their enemies, an outlook that amply explains the flight to the cities.

Nor do they try to account for the amazingly rapid growth of the revolutionary forces from 1969 to 1973, as attested by U.S. intelligence and as is obvious from the unfolding events themselves.

Barron and Paul do account for that amazingly rapid growth. [10x] Large supplies of Soviet guns and money, military aid from North Vietnamese conscripts, and the pretense that the Khmer Rouge were not going to introduce communism, but restore the monarchy.

The Khmer Rouge were militarily insignificant until in 1969-1970 the North Vietnamese army conquered a large swathe of Cambodia, and placed the Khmer Rouge in charge of it, enabling the Khmer Rouge to build up their forces by conscription.

Their quotes, where they can be checked, are no more reliable. Thus they claim that Ponchaud attributes to a Khmer Rouge official the statement that people expelled from the cities “are no longer needed, and local chiefs are free to dispose of them as they please,” implying that local chiefs are free to kill them. But Ponchaud's first report on this (Le Monde, February 18, 1976) quotes a military chief as stating that they “are left to the absolute discretion of the local authorities”, which implies nothing of the sort.

In context, the Le Monde article does imply exactly that. The article was translated into the Congressional Record [2x] and quotes a broadcast, by the leader for Mongkolborey to local authorities as saying:

"We have to build a new democratic Kampuchea entirely on new foundations. Everything that reminds of colonial and imperial culture must be eradicated not only on the land but also in each individual. One million inhabitants is enough for rebuilding the New Kampuchea. We don't need any more prisoners of war (population deported in 1975) which should be left at the complete mercy of the local chiefs".

You will notice the speaker uses a term for those captured after 1975, which implies he regards the ordinary people of Cambodia as enemies.

Ponchaud in his book provides multiple sources of evidence that the local Khmer Rouge cadre were free to kill them for any reason or no reason, and frequently did so, and Barron and Paul in their Chapter IX, which cites the broadcast to which Chomsky refers, also provide multiple sources of evidence that the local cadre were authorized to exterminate those inconvenient, or merely not needed, and sometimes did so. [3x]

These examples are typical. Where there is no independent confirmatory evidence, the Barron-Paul story can hardly be regarded as credible. Their version of history has already appeared in the Reader's Digest (circulation more than 18 million), and has been widely cited in the mass media as an authoritative account, including among them, a front-page horror summary in the Wall Street Journal, an article in TV Guide (April 30, 1977; circulation more than 19 million) by Ernest Lefever, a foreign policy specialist who is otherwise known for his argument before Congress that we should be more tolerant of the “mistakes” of the Chilean junta “in attempting to clear away the devastation of the Allende period,” and his discovery of the “remarkable freedom of expression” enjoyed by critics of the military regime (The Miami Herald , August 6, 1974).

At the time Chomsky and Herman wrote this, Pinochet's regime had wrongfully killed about two or three thousand people, and the Khmer Rouge had wrongfully killed over a million people. Yet at the time that Chomsky wrote, the crimes of Pinochet's regime had received vastly more publicity than the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime, as had the crimes of President Park.

Pinochet believed that communists were trying to take over Chile and turn it into a totalitarian terrorist outpost of the Soviet Union, and had come disturbingly close to succeeding. His remedy for this threat, the “state of siege”, was to kill communists and suspected communists, but it was to not to kill those who merely opposed him politically or spoke out against him, hence Lefever's entirely accurate remark about the freedom of expression enjoyed by opponents of Pinochet's regime.

The Khmer Rouge, on the other hand, were busy remaking man into something better, and therefore not only killed anyone who spoke out against them, but also anyone they suspected of having a bad attitude, or of thinking insufficiently virtuous thoughts, or of falling seriously short of the remarkable example of kindness, goodness, benevolence and virtue set by the top leadership of the Khmer Rouge.

Ponchaud's book is based on his own personal experiences in Cambodia from 1965 until the capture of Phnom Penh, extensive interviews with refugees and reports from the Cambodian radio. Published in France in January 1977, it has become the best-known unread book in recent history, on the basis of an account by Jean Lacouture (in the New York Review of Books), widely cited since in the press, which alleges that Ponchaud has revealed a policy of “auto-genocide” (Lacouture's term) practiced by the Communists.

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.

Sounds very impressive, does it not? If such famous and entirely respectable magazines denied the accusations that the Khmer Rouge had committed vast crimes then obviously we cannot take seriously these allegations of terror and mass murder by dishonest capitalist tools who have already been proven to be liars by Chomsky, right?

These purported citations merely lead us to the fact that some newsmen refused to pay attention to evidence of Khmer Rouge guilt.  They fail to lead us to what we are led to expect: Evidence of Khmer Rouge innocence. When we follow this citation we do not encounter neglected evidence, or neglected news stories, we do not encounter neglected “discoveries that massacre reports were false.” We merely encounter neglect of evidence and self imposed ignorance of news stories. We do not encounter mainstream newsmen confidently reporting the Khmer Rouge to be innocent, but merely one newsman's reluctance to be wholly convinced of their guilt.

Chomsky has supposedly just shown us that those who accused the Khmer Rouge of enormous crimes were lying about their citations. Now he seemingly tells us that these very respectable sources tell and entirely different story. Supposedly there must be some substantial evidence, presented by these magazines that shows or strongly suggests that the refugee's tales of terror were nonsense.

And if the reader happens to recall lots of news reports about massacres and casual disregard for human life, of slaves marched long distances without food or water, with many of them dropping on the way, as most readers in 1977 would have recalled, well doubtless all that report was one of those “repeated discoveries that massacre reports were false.”

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, 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 a letter by Sampson and an article by 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. Of course that meaning, the meaning that Chomsky implies by the context, is false. There are, as is usual in Chomsky's writings, some hidden alternate true meanings, meanings that are unlikely to occur to the reader, but are likely to turn up when someone wants to explain away one of Chomsky's more astonishing claims: The people cited did “discover” that the massacres reported by the refugees were false — not by reference to any observable facts, but by navel gazing. They “discovered” the falsity of these reports from their own feelings about the Khmer Rouge. Another, truer but even less obvious meaning, is that various newsmen reported that they had heard rumors that the expected bloodbath of those associated with the former regime had begun, when in fact it had not yet begun, or was not yet taking place on the expected scale, but these false rumors were only reported as rumors, not as massacres, and in many cases by the time they were reported as mere rumors, the delay in reporting was such that they had ceased to mere rumors, and had ceased to be false.

Similarly when Chomsky and Herman claimed “that executions have numbered at most in the thousands” that exaggerates the claims made in the magazines they cite. The nearest equivalent is a reference[2] by Chanda, one of the reporters of the Far Eastern Economic Review to “thousands”, but Chomsky and Herman made a claim much stronger than that made by Chanda. Chanda claimed that we cannot know for sure that there were vastly more than thousands, but made no claim that there were definitely only thousands. Chanda claimed ignorance of mass murder, (an ignorance entirely self induced) while Chomsky and Herman attribute to Chanda a claim that there was definitely no mass murder. They claim that Chanda presented evidence demonstrating innocence, while in fact Chanda merely denied the evidence demonstrating guilt, a much weaker position than that attributed to him.

Chanda does indeed smear the refugees, (though other commentators, in the Review, for example in May 7, 76, and in September 7, 77 confidently support the refugees) but he covers himself against the possibility that the refugees were telling the truth by saying "the numbers killed are impossible to calculate", unlike Chomsky who leads us to believe that there is substantial evidence disproving the stories of hundreds of thousands.

The Economist wrote an article[26] forcefully endorsing Ponchaud's estimates of hundreds of thousands executed, a million or so dying of brutal mistreatment . In response to this article, Sampson, an employee of a UN agency who worked in Phnom Penh until it fell wrote a letter to the editor [25], in which he took much the same position as Chanda:

I feel that such executions could be numbered in the hundreds or thousands rather than hundreds of thousands

It is this letter to the editor that the Economist “made available”.

That Sampson “felt” that executions “could” have been in the thousands is not very interesting. Chomsky and Herman lead the reader to expect that the articles they cite said something like “I went to the village that was widely reported to have been massacred, and the people there told me they were just fine.” There is large difference between “feel” and “discover”. They lead us to expect that these “neglected sources” discredit the reports of enormous crimes, rather than merely whining about them. Neither Chanda nor Sampson were willing to say “not tens of thousands” though doubtless they would have liked to say it.

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, and Sampson does not sound confident, nor does he give the reader any very persuasive grounds for his feelings.

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. Sampson's claim was merely that he had not encountered evidence that the Khmer Rouge were guilty — a claim which was surely true, for whether one finds evidence depends on how hard one looks.

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 interlocuters 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.

Refugee reports are the only source of information one can obtain once the iron curtain comes down. They are highly reliable because most refugees lack the knowledge to construct politically correct stories. Most of them have no comprehension of the why they suddenly came to be defined as criminals. It is all a mystery to them, as if a volcano erupted, and cloud of hot ash came down upon them. They cannot tell anti communist lies because they do not know what communism is.

Refugee reports are also reliable because there are lots of refugees sneaking across different borders at different times in different ways. It would be impossible for them to conspire together to tell a consistent false story.

If, as Chomsky does, one treats official statements by mass murderers as “documentation”, while treating refugee reports as “rumors” then one will necessarily conclude that conditions in totalitarian terror regimes are good, as Chomsky invariably concluded for every murderous tyrant. One will conclude, as Chomsky concluded while millions died in Cambodia, that “Washington is the torture and political murder capital of the world” [4x] and that conditions in totalitarian terror regimes are much better, that communist domination is everywhere liberation, and that freedom is everywhere slavery.

Of course, Chomsky's skepticism about refugee reports is highly selective ― in Chomsky's introduction to On Power and Ideology: the Managua Lectures, the Nicaraguan government introduced him to some people they described as Honduran refugees.  Despite his extreme skepticism towards Cambodian refugees, he apparently took this state-sponsored dog-and-pony show at face value, despite the fact that communist regimes routinely create complete Potemkin villages for the benefit of foreign guests.

To give an illustration of just one neglected source, the London Economist (March 26, 1977) carried a letter by W.J. Sampson, who worked as an economist and statistician for the Cambodian Government until March 1975, in close contact with the central statistics office. After leaving Cambodia, he writes, he “visited refugee camps in Thailand and kept in touch with Khmers,” and he also relied on “A European friend who cycled around Phnom Penh for many days after its fall [and] saw and heard of no ... executions” apart from “the shooting of some prominent politicians and the lynching of hated bomber pilots in Phnom Penh.” He concludes “that executions could be numbered in hundreds or thousands rather than in hundreds of thousands,”

Sampson is not a "neglected source". His feelings fail to contradict Ponchaud's facts. Feelings are not news.

though there was “a big death toll from sickness” — surely a direct consequence, in large measure, of the devastation caused by the American attack. Sampson's analysis is known to those in the press who have cited Ponchaud at second-hand, but has yet to be reported here. And his estimate of executions is far from unique.

It is somewhat odd that the “American attack” should cause a huge outbreak of disease two years after it ended, and two weeks after millions were forced to march long distances in the hot sun without food or water, with the result that they had to drink from muddy puddles polluted by trampling feet, urine, and corpses. 

Expert analyses of the sort just cited read quite differently from the confident conclusions of the mass media.

Those that stick their heads in the sand and failed to report the news do indeed read quite differently to those that reported the news, but they failed to report contradictory news. If you read Chomsky's “neglected sources” you are not going to find any of those “repeated discoveries that massacre reports were false”, that “space limitations preclude” them from providing.

Reading Barron and Paul, one encounters a flood of very detailed facts. Reading Chandra or Sampson, one encounters almost no facts, no events, no people, no times, no places. No news, just feelings. These articles were just not news, nor newsworthy. The one news item in Sampson's account is that his friend took a bicycle ride and did not see very much. But Barron and Paul's refugee informants saw news.

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),

Ponchaud estimated “over a million”, a guess, though strikingly similar to the data that later became available.  The embassy attributes its estimate of 1.2 million to Ponchaud.  Later Ponchaud cited the embassy, unaware that it was citing him. 

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 1976 Time estimated about six hundred thousand. In 1977 Ponchaud estimated about one million two hundred thousand wrongful deaths, Barron and Paul the same. In 1978 McGovern estimated two and a half million, consistent with the estimate of three million three hundred thousand for 1979 issued by the successor regime to the Khmer Rouge. The killing field records we now have show a roughly constant rate of killing throughout the existence of any one killing field, with a moderate increase in the later years, thus these numbers are consistent with each other, and consistent with the records we now have, suggesting about six hundred thousand a year for the first two years, and about one million a year for the next two years.

In the nineteen nineties, after the fall of communism, outsiders were free to come in and start digging up the mass graves and so forth, and at the start of the twenty first century, found substantial evidence that the estimate of three million three hundred thousand is around about right [10], which should give us reason to examine all those “scholars” with their impressive degrees, who kept producing substantially lower (though ever rising) estimates.

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.

A 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 a study were Ponchaud, and Barron and Paul.  They independently came up with the same or similar estimate for 1977 ― a bit over a million wrongful deaths. Subsequently the regime was toppled in middle of its crimes, which means we can now, for the Khmer Rouge, as for the Nazis, check the estimates. These estimates are consistent with other estimates made by mainstream mass media at the time, such as Time Magazine, were endorsed by the most reputable mainstream magazines of that time, such as The Economist, contrary to what Chomsky and Herman lead the reader to believe, and were subsequently supported by on site investigations following the fall of communism.

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.

Barron and Paul estimate [5x]

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.

These numbers are roughly consistent with what we now know [10], now that we are free to dig up the dead. The exodus number is probably too high, but the massacres number is probably too low. The total number seems to be in the right ballpark.

Ponchaud's book is serious and worth reading, as distinct from much of the commentary it has elicited.

Chomsky and Herman lead the reader to believe that the Ponchaud account of the Khmer Rouge crimes is different from the Barron and Paul account, when in fact they are in detailed agreement.

He gives a grisly account of what refugees have reported to him about the barbarity of their treatment at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. He also reminds us of some relevant history. For example, in this “peaceful land,” peasants were massacred, their lands stolen and villages destroyed, by police and army in 1966, many then joining the maquis out of “their hatred for a government exercising such injustices and sowing death.” He reports the enormous destruction and murder resulting directly from the American attack on Cambodia, the starvation and epidemics as the population was driven from their countryside by American military terror and the U.S.-incited civil war, leaving Cambodia with “an economy completely devastated by the war.” He points out that “from the time of Sihanouk, then Lon Nol, the soldiers of the government army had already employed, with regard to their Khmer Rouge 'enemies,' bloodthirsty methods in no way different from those of Democratic Cambodia” (the Khmer Rouge).

Ponchaud makes no reference to “the American attack on Cambodia”. Rather he tells us that Americans and South Vietnamese were determined to drive out the Vietcong and North Vietnamese ― enemies of both the Americans, and the Cambodian people.  He tells us that the collateral damage this caused angered many Cambodians and provided the Khmer Rouge with substantially more volunteers, but not enough to make them militarily significant. In Ponchaud's account, what made them militarily significant was the North Vietnamese army installing the Khmer Rouge in power over a large portion of Cambodia, enabling them to raise an army. The North Vietnamese Army's intervention in Cambodia provoked the bombing, and the North Vietnamese Army's intervention in Cambodia made the Khmer Rouge powerful. The pretense that they were not going to introduce communism, but merely restore the monarchy, discouraged people from fighting very hard against them. The victory of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, like previous communist victories in other countries, resulted from deception and foreign intervention, not from public outrage against the evils of US imperialism.

Chomsky leads the reader to believe that Ponchaud depicted the Khmer Rouge as a popular mass movement, when in fact Ponchaud depicted the Khmer Rouge as a conspiratorial movement.

Chomsky and Herman make it sound as if Ponchaud suggests that the Khmer Rouge barbarities were no worse than the war, as if Ponchaud suggests that the Khmer Rouge were provoked by cruel Americans invading Cambodia. Ponchaud makes no such suggestion. His book begins with the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in victory, and then page 85 briefly tells us that the ruin created by the Khmer Rouge was piled on top the ruin created by the war. He makes no suggestion that the crimes of the Khmer Rouge were comparable to the war, or caused by the war.

He also gives a rather positive account of Khmer Rouge programs of social and economic development, while deploring much brutal practice in working for egalitarian goals and national independence.

Ponchaud's account of the Khmer Rouge programs of social and economic development is the same as I give you in this article, and the same as Barron and Paul gave, the same account that so utterly outraged Chomsky and Herman. Ponchaud's title “Year Zero” was intended to imply that the Khmer Rouge had sent Cambodia back in time to the primitive and savage past, that Cambodia had suffered the opposite of social and economic development.

Presumably what Chomsky refers to is not Ponchaud's account of “the Khmer Rouge programs of social and economic development” but rather chapters five and six of Year Zero. Those chapters do not give Ponchaud's view of the Khmer Rouge, rather they give his view of how the Khmer Rouge view themselves ― as superhuman saints whose enormous kindness, benevolence, and goodness justifies the savage torture of everyone who fails to live up to the impeccable example of kindliness and saintliness set by the good Khmer Rouge themselves.

Neither Ponchaud nor Barron and Paul attempt to address the motivation and psychology that led to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, neither of them claims to understand the evil of the Khmer Rouge. Both of them imply the Khmer Rouge leadership was evil and sinful, though Ponchaud hints that the sin of pride may have been the key evil, in that the Khmer Rouge perhaps desired to believe themselves saints, and everyone else sinners deserving of suffering and punishment, whereas Barron and Paul hint that perhaps the sin of lust may have been the key evil, in that the Khmer Rouge perhaps, like the fictitious party leadership in Orwell's book 1984, lusted for absolute and extraordinary power over others, power that can necessarily only be demonstrated by making other people suffer. Since the Khmer Rouge conspicuously engaged in doublethink, these two possibilities are compatible with each other ― both may well be true simultaneously.

Ponchaud's book lacks the documentation provided in Hildebrand and Porter and its veracity is therefore difficult to assess. But the serious reader will find much to make him somewhat wary.

Ponchaud gave copious documentation from a wide variety of sources, primarily refugees. Hildebrand and Porter's documentation for events happening under Khmer Rouge control consists of nothing but official Khmer Rouge statements.

This is the documentation that Chomsky so praises, that Hildebrand and Porter reported official reality, whereas Ponchaud merely told us what some refugees said, which does not count as real.

For one thing, Ponchaud plays fast and loose with quotes and with numbers. He quotes an unattributed Khmer Rouge slogan, “One or two million young people will be enough to build the new Cambodia.” In an article in Le Monde (February 18, 1976) he gives what appears to be the same quote, this time as follows: “To rebuild the new Cambodia, a million people are enough.” Here the quote is attributed to a Khmer Rouge military commander, along with the statement misrepresented by Barron and Paul, noted above (Lacouture changes the numbers to 1.5 million to 2 million, attributes the quote to an unnamed Marxist, and concludes that it goes beyond barbarism). This is one of the rare examples of a quote that can be checked. The results are not impressive.

Ponchaud does not play fast and loose with quotes. Many Khmer Rouge said the same thing or similar things on many occasions. When Ponchaud gives two similar quotes, it is two of many similar statements, not one quote being lied about.

Ponchaud cites a Cambodian report that 200,000 people were killed in American bombings from March 7 to August 15, 1973. No source is offered, but suspicions are aroused by the fact that Phnom Penh radio announced on May 9, 1975 that there were 200,000 casualties of the American bombing in 1973, including “killed, wounded, and crippled for life” (Hildebrand and Porter). Ponchaud cites “Cambodian authorities” who give the figures 800,000 killed and 240,000 wounded before liberation. The figures are implausible. By the usual rule of thumb, wounded amount to about three times killed; quite possibly he has the figures reversed.

Chomsky and Herman, not Ponchaud, are being careless with numbers here: Ponchaud did not quote a figure of 240 000 wounded, but 600 000 wounded and 240 000 disabled [6x], which sounds about right. All the numbers for casualties in the American bombing are guesses, big round numbers that someone pulled out of the air, with one guess differing by orders of magnitude from another guess, so coincidences in these numbers are hardly surprising.

More significant is Ponchaud's account of the evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975. He reports the explanation given by the revolutionary government: that the evacuation was motivated by impending famine. But this he rejects, on the ground that rice stocks in Phnom Penh would have sufficed for two months, with rationing (what he thinks would have happened after two months, with no new harvest, he does not say). He gives no source for this estimate, and fails to observe that “According to Long Boret, the old Government's last Premier, Phnom Penh had only eight days worth of rice on hand on the eve of the surrender“ (Agence France-Presse, Bangkok; New York Times, May 9, 1975). Nor does he cite the testimony of U.S. AID officials that Phnom Penh had only a six-day supply of rice (William Goodfellow, New York Times, July 14, 1975).

In fact, where an independent check is possible, Ponchaud's account seems at best careless, sometimes in rather significant ways.

Chomsky's rationale for evacuation was only one of several given by the Khmer Rouge, and not a very credible one, for the Khmer Rouge had been driving people out of the cities they captured and marching them off to slavery since 1972. When they marched them out of Kompong Som they left behind several thousand tons of rice in the city, which rotted.

Ponchaud, like many others, saw vast areas of fields abandoned and unplanted, for those who would have ordinarily planted them had been abducted and taken to far away places to perform slave labor. [7x]

The Khmer Rouge neglected to allow many of those they marched out of the city access to water during the march, resulting a very large death rate among the evacuees. They frequently neglected to feed their slaves for long periods. They deliberately destroyed food sources that could not easily subjected to centralized storage and control, such as fruit trees. They also forbade harvesting such food source from the wild, for example fish. They neglected to plant rice in their focus on cash crops, such as jute, and in their focus on irrigation works to build the future without regard for feeding people in the present. The famine that they caused was in part accidental, caused by incompetence, for example planting the wrong kind of rice, and building foolish irrigation ditches, but it was in part deliberate, as when they forbade fishing, had fruit trees cut down, and forbade the planting or harvest of mountain leap rice. In the combination of carelessness and active malice, the Khmer Rouge famine resembled previous communist famines, some of which were intended to end resistance by depopulating large areas, some of which were produced by incompetence, as politicians and bureaucrats directed farmers how they should farm, and some of which were caused by casual neglect, as those politicians and bureaucrats simply forgot to feed their captives. The disaster was similar in kind to past communist crimes, but more severe in degree.

Nevertheless, the book is a serious work, however much the press has distorted it.

While press accounts of Ponchaud's book contained numerous errors, their accounts were qualitatively accurate, accurately conveying the scale of the Khmer Rouge crimes depicted in the book, and the evil and malice of the Khmer Rouge depicted in the book.

Chomsky and Herman's treatment of Ponchaud's description of the Khmer Rouge crimes largely consists, like their treatment of various people's reports of Vietnamese crimes, of ignoring the accusations. For example Chomsky and Herman splutter with synthetic indignation about Barron and Paul's account of the evacuation of Phnom Penh, yet somehow neglect to mention Ponchaud's almost identical account “Woe unto the defeated.” .

As noted, Ponchaud relies overwhelmingly on refugee reports. Thus his account is at best second-hand with many of the refugees reporting what they claim to have heard from others. Lacouture's review gives at best a third-hand account. Commentary on Lacouture's review in the press, which has been extensive, gives a fourth-hand account. That is what is available to readers of the American press.

As noted, refugee accounts are highly reliable, particularly when we have accounts from multiple independent refugees, and these accounts have been surveyed and summarized by multiple independent writers. Refugee accounts are also the only evidence available for crimes occurring behind an iron curtain, so if one discounts refugee accounts, one automatically whitewashes all of the worlds most evil regimes, as Chomsky did.

As an instance, consider the Christian Science Monitor editorial already cited, which gives a fair sample of what is available to the American public. This editorial, based on Lacouture's review, speaks of the “reign of terror against the population” instituted by the Khmer Rouge. Lacouture, like Ponchaud, emphasizes the brutality of the American war, which laid the basis for all that followed.

Neither Ponchaud nor Lacouture suggest that the war was as brutal as the peace, nor do they blame the Americans for “all that followed”. Lacouture starts and ends by stating that the crimes are committed out of utopianism and Marxist ideology [8x] a statement presumably based on Ponchaud's chapters five and six.

These references disappear from the Monitor editorial, which pretends that the current suffering in Cambodia takes place in an historical vacuum, as a mere result of Communist savagery. Similarly, an earlier editorial (January 26, 1977), based on Barron and Paul, also avoids any reference to American responsibility, though there is much moralizing about those who are indifferent to “one of the most brutal and concentrated onslaughts in history” in this “lovely land” of “engaging people.”

Ponchaud merely mentions the exceptional violence of the civil war in passing in a couple of pages in the middle of the book. In summarizing a book of over two hundred pages, the Monitor left out matters that the book covered in two pages. This gave the reader an entirely accurate impression of the contents of the book.

Ponchaud depicted the extraordinary violence and tyranny of the peace as a result of extraordinarily pure and extreme communist ideology, not a consequence of the violence of the war: “its aim was to prove a theory that had been worked out in the abstract without the slightest regard for human factors”. Nor did his account depict the war as an “American attack” on Cambodia, but as a civil war between the Khmer Rouge, allied to the enemies of the United States, and the Cambodian government, allied to the United States. Thus the Monitor account of the book was qualitatively accurate, and the account of the book that Chomsky implies was deceptive.

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.”

Ponchaud, like Barron and Paul, details how the Khmer Rouge caused famine and mass starvation by their actions that followed the end of the war, in part deliberately creating famine in order to control the population through control of the food supply, in part through arrogance, telling farmers how they should farm and making bad decisions, and in part through negligence, in simply forgetting to make provision for food or water for the slaves.

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”

Those American attacks probably killed many Cambodians, but they were targeted at communist Vietnamese intruders who had attacked Americans from bases within Cambodia.

If Sihanouk's voice was not heard clearly, it was because he was speaking out of both sides of his mouth at the time. His foreign policy had led to disaster, in that his communist allies were occupying his territory, killing his soldiers, and mistreating his subjects. His policy and his words vacillated indecisively between continuing his servile one sided alliance, and breaking it. Sihanouk had given the Americans the locations of the targets those bombers were hitting, a deception his supposed allies soon discovered.

But let us return to the fourth-hand Monitor account. It also refers “to recent photographs depicting forced labor, conditions in the countryside,” namely, the case already discussed, adding that they “have not been positively verified.” This hardly does justice to the facts. The Monitor also cites “reports” that 2 million people have died. The only source we can imagine for this is Lacouture's rhetorical question: “What Oriental despots or medieval inquisitors ever boasted haying eliminated, in a single year, one-quarter of their own population?”—2 million people. This statement, allegedly based, on Ponchaud, is quoted in the Monitor. Nothing supporting this appears in Ponchaud's book, as Lacouture agrees in corrections published in The New York Review(May 26, 1977).

The Monitor editorial writers had obviously never seen the book on which they based their account of events in Cambodia Rather, like the bulk of the press, they selected what they wanted to believe. Citing Lacouture, they denounce the terror and barbarism of the Khmer Rouge, omitting his denunciation of the American attack.

Chomsky and Herman find that “space limitations preclude” them from providing any examples of “repeated discoveries that massacre reports were false”, yet strangely they have ample space to repeat themselves about the Monitor editorial and tediously repeat themselves yet again about the already much repeated photograph.

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 judgements, 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. In his corrections, Lacouture notes the error, and adds that this Khmer Rouge official “said, as Ponchaud writes, that he found the revolutionary method of the Vietnamese 'very slow'...” A more accurate statement would be that the Thai reporter claims that that is what was said — by now, a sufficiently remote chain of transmission to raise many doubts. 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.

Lacouture's review contained other errors, as he notes in his corrections. Thus he attributed to “texts distributed in Phnom Penh” what in fact appear to be slogans remembered by refugees, again a rather considerable difference. None of the examples he quotes is specifically attributed by Ponchaud.

"The overturned basket" is the title of the third chapter of Ponchaud's book, in which he presents a wide variety of evidence that this metaphor accurately describes Khmer Rouge policy and methods, depicting a wide variety of crimes similar to those committed by the Nazis, and unlike the Nazis, committed against the major part of the population, (the point of the analogy of the overturned basket). The fact that Lacouture garbled the one fragment of evidence that he presented from the vast and horrifying assemblage of evidence presented in this chapter makes no difference in substance to the ample support that Ponchaud presents at great length from many diverse sources. If Lacouture's summary is inaccurate, its brevity makes the evidence sound weaker than it is, not stronger.

Chomsky and Herman take three long paragraphs to describe an error in the review that could have been described in three lines.  Perhaps this is why “space limitations preclude” them from providing any examples of “repeated discoveries that massacre reports were false”.

In his corrections, Lacouture raises the questions whether precision on these matters is very important. “Faced with an enterprise as monstrous as the new Cambodian Government, should we see the main problem as one of deciding exactly which person uttered an inhuman phrase, and whether the regime has murdered thousands of hundreds or thousands of wretched people?” He adds that it hardly matters what were the exact numbers of the victims of Dachau of Katyn. Or perhaps, we may add, whether the victims of My Lai numbered in the hundreds or tens of thousands, if a factor of 100 is unimportant.

Chomsky and Herman make it sound as if Lacouture conceded his numbers were false. Lacouture made no such concession.

If, indeed, postwar Cambodia is, as he believes, similar to Nazi Germany, then his comment is perhaps just, though we may add that he has produced no evidence to support this judgement.

The book that Lacouture reviewed contained, as Lacouture accurately reported, evidence that Khmer Rouge Cambodia was not similar to Nazi Germany, but far worse.

Lacouture told us [8x]:

After Auschwitz and the Gulag, we might have thought this century had produced the ultimate in horror, but we are now seeing the suicide of a people in the name of revolution; worse: in the name of socialism.

As with Butterfield, Chomsky and Herman ignore, rather than rebut, the more serious accusations made by Ponchaud and reported by Lacouture, thus implicitly conceding that those accusations were true.

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 judgement is in order. That the latter conclusion may be more nearly correct is suggested by the analyses mentioned earlier.

“The analyses mentioned earlier” make claims far weaker than those that Chomsky and Herman attribute to them, and are not “analyses”, but mere denials: Sampson refused to see, Chanda refused to believe.

We disagree with Lacouture's judgement on the importance of precision on this question. It seems to us quite important, at this point in our understanding, to distinguish between official government texts and memories of slogans reported by refugees, between the statement that the regime “boasts” of having “killed” 2 million people and the claim by Western sources that something like a million have died — particularly, when the bulk of these deaths are plausibly attributable to the United States. Similarly, it seems to us a very important question whether an “inhuman phrase” was uttered by a Thai reporter or a Khmer Rouge official. As for the numbers, it seems to us quite important to determine whether the number of collaborators massacred in France was on the order of thousands, and whether the French Government ordered and organized the massacre. Exactly such questions arise in the case of Cambodia.

This makes it sound as if Lacouture, or at least Ponchaud, had conceded that the deaths of over a million people during Khmer Rouge rule were largely the result of the crimes the US had committed two years earlier. In fact, the deaths were due to execution, torture, overwork, starvation rations, food confiscation for export, disease spread because the slaves were denied the opportunity to collect clean water and had to drink from trampled mud puddles contaminated with feaces and urine, the deliberate destruction of food sources, and the higher priority given to building for a glorious future rather than providing food for the present, resulting in large areas becoming uncultivated, a priority that had the effect of turning human lives into physical capital. The Khmer Rouge destroyed sources of perishable food, such as fruit trees, and forbade pursuit of perishable foods, such as fish. They sought to ensure that the only access to food was through centralized stockpiles that they collected and dispersed.

We do not pretend to know where the truth lies amidst these sharply conflicting assessments;

But they do pretend to know where the truth lies. The assessments that supposedly depicted the Khmer Rouge as good guys, were supposedly "expert analyses" supposedly issued by highly reputable magazines. The criticisms of the Khmer Rouge were issued by people that Chomsky and Herman have supposedly caught lying repeatedly, in service of a supposed conspiratorial “campaign to reconstruct the history of these years so as to place the role of the United States in a more favorable light”.

rather, we again want to emphasize some crucial points. 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.

And I again reply: Hildebrand and Porter's book was ignored because it tedious communist propaganda that only the faithful would purchase, and not even the faithful would read.

Perhaps with fewer repetitions, Chomsky would have had space for some of those “repeated discoveries that massacre reports were false”.

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. Ponchaud's far more substantial work has an anti-Communist bias and message, but it has attained stardom only via the extreme anti-Khmer Rouge distortions added to it in the article in the New York Review of Books.

Ponchaud's account of the Khmer Rouge crimes is almost identical in every small detail to that given by Barron and Paul.  The article in the New York Review of Books accurately conveyed the tone and magnitude of the Khmer Rouge crimes depicted by Ponchaud, erring merely in some details of the crimes.  Chomsky and Herman, not the review, distort what Ponchaud said.

The last added the adequately large numbers executed and gave a “Left” authentication of Communist evil that assured a quantum leap to the mass audience unavailable to Hildebrand and Porter or to Carol Bragg. Contrary facts and even authors' corrections of misstatements are generally ignored or inadequately reported in favor of a useful lesson (we note one exception: an honest retraction of an editorial based on Lacouture in the Boston Globe. We noted earlier that the Monitor editorial and other press comments built on the Lacouture review offer at best a fourth-hand account. 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.

One and half years later, Chomsky and Herman published a book length version of this article [9x]. Just as the book hit the book stands, in the first days of 1979, the Soviet line on the Khmer Rouge abruptly underwent a U turn, in order to justify the Vietnamese conquest of Cambodia and establishment of a puppet government there. A loud chorus promptly came forth from the radical left demonizing the Khmer Rouge. This activism led to a huge volume of press coverage many times greater than any coverage given to those crimes back in 1977 when such coverage would have served US, rather than Soviet purposes, a chorus of venomous denunciation eventually joined by Chomsky himself, who denied ever speaking his former words, a chorus that was eventually confirmed as speaking the truth this time, when communism in Cambodia finally fell, allowing outsiders to dig up the graves, confirming the account of the crimes of the Khmer Rouge given by Barron and Paul, and the identical account given by Ponchaud.

For whatever motives, Chomsky defended the Khmer Rouge when such defense served Soviet purposes, and demonized them when such demonization served Soviet purposes, denying that his past words were ever written.

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