Noam Chomsky

William S. Lear rael at
Thu Oct 29 08:53:32 PST 1998

I am beginning to dislike my apparent role of defender of distortions of what Chomsky wrote, but I won't let them pass. I guess our discussion of the post WW-II monetary order and the Marshall Plan will have to wait...

But since Brad doesn't seem to get it, yet again, I'll respond below in detail...(sigh).

On Wed, October 28, 1998 at 20:29:59 (-0800) Brad De Long writes:
> .... My reading of
>Chomsky-on-Pol-Pot was not that he was an apologist, exactly. Instead I
>smelled the same scent of brimstone that that I smelled when I read
>Sartre-on-Stalin. Sartre thought that it was better not to speak of
>Stalin's crimes because speaking of them might confuse the workers.
>Similarly, Chomsky seemed to me to think it better if people didn't dwell
>too much on Pol Pot. It seemed to me that when the facts were on Chomsky's
>side, he argued the facts; and when the facts weren't on his side, he
>impugned the motives of his opponents.
>And this I didn't like. To this I had an allergic reaction.

Your "reading of Chomsky-on-Pol-Pot" is about as faithful to what he believes and has actually said as your reading of De Cecco's position on hot capital outflows and the Marshall Plan: that is to say, it is entirely wrong. Let's flesh out your take here: Chomsky treated Pol Pot in a similar way to how Sartre treated Stalin --- Chomsky apparently did not want to "muddy the waters", according to your interpretation, so he declined to mention the numerous crimes of Pol Pot.

This is followed by the non-sequitur last sentence in your first paragraph, apparently simply another one of your unsupported contentions, the supporting evidence for which we'll probably have to wait until you've dug up the dirt on Barlett and Steele. The insinuation is that Chomsky knew of Pol Pot's crimes ("the facts"), but chose, tactically, to ignore them and to attack "the motives of his opponents" (which opponents exactly, I'm not sure, but no matter).

First: of course Chomsky knew of Pol Pot's crimes (for which the U.S. itself bears a direct responsibility). It is flatly false that he has declined to discuss them (picking literally at random off of my shelf: "there can be little doubt that the war was followed by an outbreak of violence, massacre and repression, and it seems that bloody purges continued throughout the period under review" [Chomsky and Herman, *After the Cataclysm*, p. xiv-xv]).

As to U.S. responsibility for the crimes of Pol Pot (aside from our genocidal assault on Southeast Asia itself), Brad forgets to mention our crucial diplomatic support for the regime:

The Carter Administration "[chose] not to accept the Vietnamese

offer to reestablish relations," Raymond Garthoff observes,

impelled primarily by its early 1978 "tilt towards China" and,

accordingly, toward China's Khmer Rouge ally, well before Vietnam

invaded Cambodia. Pol Pot proceeded to carry out the worst

atrocities of his reign, concealed by the CIA in its later

demographic study, presumably because of the US connection.

Unlike many European countries, the US did not abstain at the UN

on the "legitimate" government of Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge

were expelled by the Vietnamese, but "joined China in supporting

the Khmer Rouge" (Garthoff). The US backed China's invasion to

"punish Vietnam," and turned to supporting the Thai-based

coalition in which the Khmer Rouge was the major military

element. The US "encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot," as

Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, later

commented. Deng Xiaoping, a particular favorite of the

Reagan-Bush Administrations, elaborated: "It is wise to force the

Vietnamese to stay in Kampuchea because they will suffer more and

will not be able to extend their hand to Thailand, Malaysia, and

Singapore," which they no doubt would have proceeded to conquer

had they not been stopped in time. After helping to reconstruct

Pol Pot's shattered forces, the US-China-Thailand coalition (and

the West generally) lent its diplomatic support to Pol Pot;

imposed an embargo on Cambodia and blocked aid from other

sources, including humanitarian aid; and undermined any moves

toward a negotiated settlement that did not offer the Khmer Rouge

an influential role. The US even threatened Thailand with loss of

trade privileges if it refused to support the Khmer Rouge, the

Far Eastern Economic Review reported in 1989. [Chomsky, *Year

501*, chapter 10 --- sorry, don't have page number handy]

Second, since Chomsky knew of the crimes, has condemned them, one might wonder why Brad would make such a claim? The fact is, Chomsky quite rightly does not make them a centerpiece of his studies. It is *our* crimes that are *our responsibility*. It is enough that we know that Pol Pot was a monster, unworthy of our support.

>But I am prepared to admit that there is a (slight) chance that I might
>occasionally be wrong about *something*. So the last time I stopped by
>Cody's, I picked up Chomsky's (1992) What _Uncle Sam Really Wants_ (New
>York: Odonian Press: 1878825011).

Note: This is a collection of speeches and interviews, not quite as heavily footnoted or detailed as many of his other widely available works.

>But I only got to page 17. Then I put the book down--with my strong
>negative allergic reaction confirmed.
>The book began with a sketch of the history of U.S. foreign relations since
>World War II. By the second page Chomsky was in the middle of a brief
>discussion of planning for the postwar period. Four paragraphs were devoted
>to NSC 68--the end-of-the-1940s policy planning document that proposed
>building a military strong enough to confront the Soviet Union on any
>continent, and settling down for a long Cold War of unlimited duration. But
>NSC 68 was exhibited in a vacuum. There was not a word about the gradual
>shift in the late 1940s of U.S. policy from Rooseveltian cooperation with
>Stalin to Trumanesque confrontation, not a word about escalation of
>tensions--the fate of former German prisoners returned by the western
>allies to Stalin, the failure of power-sharing in Poland, the Soviet coup
>in Czechoslovakia, the disputes over German reconstruction ending in the
>Soviet blockade of Berlin--and not a word about how NSC 68 had no prospects
>of becoming policy until Josef Stalin took off the leash and Kim Il Sung
>began the Korean War.
>I found this absence of any attempt to sketch the context disturbing.

Again, note that this is a collection of speeches and interviews, so the organization of the book is perhaps not optimal for the index-challenged. But the sad (for Brad) fact is, he does "sketch the context" of this in this very book! Turning to page 78 we find:

Despite much pretense, national security has not been a major

concern of US planners and elected officials. The historical

record reveals this clearly. Few serious analysts took issue with

George Kennan's position "that it is not Russian military power

which is threatening us, it is Russian political power" (October

1947); or with President Eisenhower's consistent view that the

Russians intended no military conquest of Western Europe and the

major role of NATO was to "convey a feeling of confidence to

exposed populations, a confidence which will make them sturdier,

politically, in their opposition to Communist inroads".

Brad's view of the Cold War is entirely conventional: the US wished merely to protect itself against the aggressive commies. Brad declines to go beyond this for reasons best known to himself, but the "Trumanesque confrontation" so coyly referred to is quite important, based on economic interests rather than a simply irascibility or fear, as Frank Kofsky shows in his detailed study, *Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948: A Successful Campaign to Deceive the Nation* (St. Martin's Press, 1995), a work with which Chomsky is, incidentally, very familiar.

Also note Brad's entirely conventional (and wrong) summary of the Korean War ("Stalin took of the leash and Kim Il Sung began the Korean War"). As Rakesh has pointed out, Bruce Cumings two volume history of the Korean War should be consulted before so easily swallowing this wholesale (the short answer is that the US bore a good deal of responsibility for this mess). The works in question are *The Origins of the Korean War: Vol. 1, Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes 1945-1947* (Princeton University Press, 1981), and *The Origins of the Korean War: Vol. 2, The Roaring of the Cataract 1947-1950* (Princeton University Press, 1990). Interested readers might also check out Bruce Cumings *War and Television* (Verso, 1992), which has other interesting details, particularly his story about producing a documentary for English television (BBC, I think) about the Korean War.

>After a discussion of George Kennan, Chomsky wandered off into three pages
>on "study groups" of the "State Department and the "Council on Foreign
>Relations" who sought to plan for U.S. postwar economic domination of the
>"Grand Area." He makes no contact with Bretton Woods, no contact with the
>founding and the initial policies of the World Bank and the IMF, no contact
>with those--like, say, Harry Dexter White--who actually made the policies
>that governed the postwar reconstruction of the global economy.

Remember, this is the Brad who, previously reading Chomsky's "contact with Bretton Woods" asked "Can Noam Chomsky count?" because Chomsky agreed with De Cecco and Helleiner that hot capital outflows were approximately matched by aid inflows (Brad's answer, remember also, was "No"). Also, it was not Harry Dexter White who "actually made the policies that governed the postwar reconstruction of the global economy". This is far too simplistic, and had Brad bothered to read De Cecco's *Cambridge Journal of Economics* piece I posted, he would know that White's plan's were significantly distorted ("In order to see his creature, the IMF, delivered into the world, White transformed it beyond recognition", p. 53), and that White was therefore a formulator of policy details and a negotiator, not a principle actor (for the distinction between the two sorts of beasts, Thomas Ferguson's *Golden Rule* should be consulted).

>Why not devote your--very limited--space to discussing the views of those
>who actually had influence, and did make policy?

Such as Dean Acheson, Paul Nitze, George Kennan, John Foster Dulles, Dwight Eisenhower, to all of whom Chomsky refers in this 97 page booklet?

>Chomsky then turned to political events in Europe in the aftermath of World
>War II. He began by making it sound as though first the U.S. armies
>conquered North Africa and Italy, and only then did Roosevelt decided to
>put fascists like Darlan and Badoglio back into power. The real history is
>more complicated: overextended U.S. forces fearful of German counterstrikes
>(Kasserine Pass, Anzio) and a willingness to make deals with the little
>devils in order to get into a better position to fight the biggest devil. I
>think that Roosevelt's decision to back Darlan and Badoglio was a bad
>mistake, but I also know that it didn't happen the way that Chomsky implies
>that it did.

Yes, history is always "more complicated". We must understand the difficult straits that Roosevelt (who referred to Mussolini as "that admirable Italian gentleman") was in, and how Roosevelt, a man of such immense moral capacities, must have hurt so badly deep inside. And, oops, we made a "bad mistake" supporting the fascists. In fact, Chomsky's history is quite accurate, not based on "mistakes", as Brad would have it. For those interested in more detail, any of Gabriel Kolko's books would be a good start, such as his *The Roots of American Foreign Policy* (Beacon Press, 1969), or probably better, *The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy 1943-1945* (Pantheon Books, 1990 [1969]). Christopher Simpson also goes into detail why the US preferred fascists to resistance fighters generally. See his *Blowback: America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War* (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988) for details. Finally, William Blum's *Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II* (Common Courage Press, 1995) also provides excellent information.

>I know that Chomsky's relation of the history of the Anglo-American
>reconquest of the Mediterranean from Hitler is not "as it really

This is someone who prefers Charles Kindleberger's romantic histories of the Marshall Plan "as it really happened". Again, on this point, see Kolko's *The Politics of War*.

>And it makes me wonder: whenever we reach an issue that I do not know
>deeply, what things that I would like to know is Chomsky going to try hard
>to keep me from noticing?

The only things you fail to notice are things that make you feel uncomfortable about your romantic notions of US motives.

>Chomsky then moves on to "CIA subversion--how it dispersed and suppressed
>the "anti-fascist resistance" in Italy, Greece, and Korea. Not a word is
>spoken of the likely character of the regimes that would have come to power
>in the absence of U.S. support for the right. Now this struck me as a very
>big mistake, for it is hard to look at postwar Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and
>North Korea and avoid the conclusions that (a) people there lived worse and
>suffered more than the people of Italy, Greece, and South Korea; and (b)
>governments like those in the first three would have held power in the
>second three were it not for U.S. intervention. It is hard to avoid the
>conclusion that U.S. support for the right in Italy, Greece, and South
>Korea "expanded the cage" relative to what would have happened otherwise.

Of course, Brad *knows* the "likely character" of the US not supporting a democratic election in Italy would have resulted in North Korean-style dictatorship. It could also be true that the people in Italy and Greece (not to mention Vietnam) would have been much better off had the US supported the often broad international consensus that democratic elections should be allowed to take place. That the Italians or Greeks, after suffering under fascism, should be free to run their own affairs, is simply unthinkable.

>Now it is possible to avoid this conclusion. It is possible to make the
>case that U.S. intervention in Italy, Greece, and South Korea was
>destructive. But such a case needs to be backed by a powerful argument that
>"antifascist" Italian, Greek, or South Korean governments would have been
>very different from the actual governments of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, or
>North Korea; or by a powerful argument that if U.S. policy had been less
>confrontational then Stalin would have been content with an independent but
>"Finlandized" eastern Europe.
>Chomsky makes no such argument.

As to the first claim: Brad wishes Chomsky to make leaps that no responsible historian would do. Nobody knows what *could* have happened in, say, Italy, had the US not preferred the fascists, and had supported democratic elections. As to the second: there is very good evidence that Stalin indeed "would have been content" with collaboration with the US (as I believe he was in Greece). Chomsky, if he does not in this pamphlet, refers to this elsewhere, not that I'd expect Brad to undertake any special effort to find this out, since the trials of turning even 17 pages have apparently left him spent.

>What I object to is that Chomsky tears up the trail markers that might lead
>to conclusions different from his. He makes it next to impossible for
>people unversed in the issues to understand what the live and much-debated
>points of contention might be. He clear-cuts the historical landscape.

You mean the same historical landscape that so often directs the powerful to turn to a Neue Ordnung to solve their problems? You mean the "live and much debated points of contention" over how best to demolish the peasant society of South Vietnam so the French could return to their former colony? Yes, supporting folks like Roberto ("blowtorch bob") D'Aubuisson is rife with deep ethical conundrums...

>What I object to is the lack of background, to the lack of context. In
>telling the history of the Cold War as it really happened--even in ten
>pages--there has to be a place for Stalin, an inquiry into the character of
>the regimes that Stalin sponsored, and an assessment of Stalinist plans and
>expectations. But Chomsky ruthlessly suppresses half the story of the Cold
>War--the story of the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Nonsense. To claim that Chomsky "ruthlessly suppresses" the fact that the Soviet Union was a dungeon (need one do more than breathe to realize this) is ludicrous. He does cover the US planner's interpretation of the Soviet threat (in this book even!), but Brad only made it to page 17...

>In my view, the first duty that any participant in any speech situation
>has: to tell it like he or she thinks that it is, not to try to suppress
>big chunks of the story because they are inconvenient in the context of
>your current political goals. You can't show only half (or less than half)
>the picture. That's an act of intellectual authoritarianism, an attempt to
>lower the level of the discourse, an attempt to keep people from knowing
>things that are not "good" for them--an intellectual foul.

Chomsky does tell the whole story, quite properly. He does not dwell on the totalitarian nature of the Soviet Union because that is not the issue. He also accurately captures the "intentions" of the Soviet planners as much as anybody could. If George Kennan could write that "it is not Russian military power which is threatening us, it is Russian political power", do we then assume that Kennan is attempting to "suppress big chunks of the story" because you are still stuck in a romantic past, where the US was the Good Guy (who, perhaps, "blundered" in an "effort to do good") and the Soviet Union was the incarnation of Evil on earth?

>In a world in which there are lots of people who try to tell it as it
>And then there were the passages that I could not interpret as anything
>other than casual lies, made out of a cynical belief that his audience
>wouldn't know any better:
> --that (doomed) postwar partisans trying to fight
> guerrilla wars against Soviet rule in Ukraine,
> Belorus, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere
> were "armies that had been established by
> Hitler." (Instead they were by and large people
> --a good chunk of them fascists and anti-semites--
> who wanted to be ruled by neither Hitler nor
> Stalin. Nationalist partisans fought the Nazis
> when they occupied eastern Europe, and fought
> the Soviets when they moved in.)

Brad is wrong. They were, it is true, *people* before the Nazis came along, but they were not then the armies to which Chomsky refers that later existed, thanks to German efforts. I believe Christopher Simpson covers some of this turf in his book *Blowback*. The fact that they "wanted to be ruled by neither Hitler nor Stalin" is a non-sequitur that has nothing to do with whether or not the Nazis established the armies.

> --that the "liberal extreme" of postwar American
> policymaking was the George Kennan who sneers
> at "vague... and unreal objectives such as human
> rights, the raising of living standards, and
> democratization." (No one who has read any of
> the documents can believe that. The liberal
> extreme--in fact, the vital center for much
> of the immediate post-WWII period--was the
> position that Kennan was arguing against in
> the passage Chomsky quotes: the position held
> by those who did care about human, rights,
> economic development, and democratization., and
> who made them the focus of a substantial chunk
> of U.S. postwar policy.)

In fact, some of us who have read the documents accept this as obvious. Which "substantial chunk of U.S. postwar policy" was focused on "human rights" or "democratization"? Was it that pursued by Jimmy Carter in Nicaragua, supporting Somoza to the bitter end? Perhaps it was when we supported bloody coups in Guatemala or Iran? Or perhaps our support of Suharto that has you feeling so warm and fuzzy? Maybe it was our deep respect for "democratization" that caused us to threaten Italy with a cutoff of food aid unless they voted for our party? Perhaps the same motive helped us to ignore the Geneva Accords calling for elections in Vietnam? Perhaps also this helped us to attack Nicaragua and refuse to stop the illegal butchery until they "voted" for the US-backed candidate? Maybe Pinochet, languishing as we speak in jail, is the product of a the "substantial chunk" so concerned with human rights --- or was it the democratization impulse that carried the day then? And of course, we HAD to support South Africa, because otherwise it "would have been very different from the actual government[]" that appeared there.

As to "economic development", perhaps Joan Robinson is also dropping "casual lies"?:

It is obvious enough that the United States crusade against

Communism is a campaign against development. By means of it the

American people have been led to acquiesce in the maintenance of

a huge war machine and its use by threat or actual force to try

to suppress every popular movement that aims to overthrow ancient

or modern tyranny and begin to find a way to overcome poverty and

establish national self-respect. In those countries whose

governments have been prepared to accept American support, "aid"

is given in a form which may do more to inhibit development than

to promote it.

---Joan Robinson, "Contrasts in Economic Development," in Neal D.

Houghton, ed., *Struggle Against History: U.S. Foreign Policy in

an Age of Revolution* (New York, Washington Square Press, 1968).

Found in Noam Chomsky, *At War With Asia*, (Pantheon, 1970),

p. 4.

Or maybe Jaime Belcazar, Bolivian director of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) from 1979-1984 is also a "liar" because he doesn't think "economic development" or "democratization" formed a "substantial chunk" of US policy:

The tragedy of course is the U.S. war against Nicaragua. Much of

the excellent groundwork in social and economic programs is now

suffering. Nicaragua was providing an alternative development

model for the third world, a pluralistic model that offered

concrete lessons to others --- invaluable lessons --- with its

mistakes, successes, failures, and hopes. Now that experiment is

being undermined by the United States. Innocent people are being

killed, development projects destroyed, and we are all the losers

because of it.

Of course, we don't *know*, had the US not destroyed the effort, that Nicaragua would not have become another North Korea ... therefore the fight against democracy, development, and human rights must be interpreted with great care, because as Brad says, history is "more complicated" than it appears.

> --that "free trade is fine for economics departments
> and newpaper editorials, but nobody in the
> corporate world or the government takes the
> doctrines seriously." (How does he know so much
> better than I do what Lloyd Bentsen, Bob Rubin,
> Larry Summers, or Laura D'Andrea Tyson--or,
> indeed, I--take seriously?)

Or, perhaps Marcello De Cecco? Let's put this simply: what is called "free trade", as De Cecco shows in his book *Money and Empire*, is fine for the powerful to impose on others, and it is in practice quite often a gross violation of free trade doctrine. The business press is full of praise for government interventions in blatant violations of free trade doctrines. Let's not forget that Larry Summers' version of "free trade" was to export pollution to African countries, the inhabitants of which had a "comparative advantage" because they would just die of disease or poverty anyway, so why not cancer?

>So by page 17 I had had more than enough.

I've had enough of your slanders about Chomsky. To accuse him of lying *merely because you disagree* (and have a deluded view of history, to boot) is the height of wretchedness. You should be ashamed, Brad.


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