June 17, 2002

My Very, Very Allergic Reaction to Noam Chomsky: Khmer Rouge, Faurisson, Milosevic

"Never get involved in a land war in Asia." "Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line." And now, "Never get involved in an argument over Noam Chomsky."

The Chomsky defenders--and there seem to be a surprisingly large number of them--seem to form a kind of cult. Arguing with them seems to be a lot like trying to teach Plato's Republic to a pig: it wastes your time, and it annoys the pig. But I've spent more than enough time on this over the past three months: time to let it out of the cage:

Consider Chomsky's claim that: "In the early 1990s, primarily for cynical great power reasons, the U.S. selected Bosnian Muslims as their Balkan clients..." On its face this is ludicrous. When the United States selects clients for cynical great power reasons, it selects strong clients--not ones whose unarmed men are rounded up and shot by the thousands. And Bosnian Muslims as a key to U.S. politico-military strategy in Europe? As Bismarck said more than a century ago, "There is nothing in the Balkans that is worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." It holds true today as well: the U.S. has no strategic or security interest in the Balkans that is worth the death of a single Carolinian fire-control technician. U.S. intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s was "humanitarian" in origin and intention (even if we can argue about its effect). Only a nut-boy loon would argue otherwise.

But whenever I ask the Chomskyites why he would claim that, "In the early 1990s, primarily for cynical great power reasons, the US selected Bosnian Muslims as their Balkan clients..." I get one or more of three responses:

  • It was said in haste in an interview--it's not representative of his thought.
  • Of course the U.S. selected Bosnian Muslims as their Balkan clients for great power reasons! Mineral wealth! Oil pipelines!
  • Yes, he's made some mistakes. And he refuses to back down or make concessions when he is wrong. But it's more than counterbalanced by the stunning quality of his insights!

Insights? Like his writing a preface for a book by Robert Faurisson--a guy whose thesis seems to be that "the alleged massacre in gas chambers and the genocide of the Jews is part of one and the same lie, a gigantic political and financial racket for the benefit of Israel and international Zionism"? Like his claiming in said preface that Faurisson seems to be "a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort"? Like his claims that he "know[s] very little" about Faurisson's work, has "no special knowledge" about the topics Faurisson writes about, and--as Jay Parini notes-- continues to "maintain to this day that he has never read anything by Faurisson that suggests that the man was pro-Nazi"? These are supposed to be high quality insights?

But whenever I ask the Chomskyites why he would claim that Robert Faurisson is a "relatively apolitical liberal," and how he could possibly manage to "never read anything by Faurisson that suggests that the man was pro-Nazi," I get one or more of three responses:

  • What Chomsky wrote and said about Faurisson was written and said in haste, without proper reflection--it's not representative of his thought.
  • Chomsky is quoted out of context: he's defending Faurisson's right to free speech according to the principles of Voltaire, not endorsing or defending Faurisson.
  • Yes, he's made some mistakes. And he refuses to back down or make concessions when he is wrong. But it's more than counterbalanced by the extraordinarily good work he's done uncovering the cynical crimes of power-mad governments like the U.S. and Israel.

Which makes me ask, wouldn't it be better not to misrepresent Faurisson's beliefs? Not to claim that he is a relatively apolitical liberal? Not to say that you have seen no evidence that Faurisson is pro-Nazi? It is, after all, a much stronger defense of free speech to say that you are defending a loathsome Holocaust-denier's right to free speech because free speech is absolute, then to say that poor Faurisson--a relatively apolitical liberal--is being persecuted for no reason other than that some object to his (unspecified) "conclusions."

And uncovering the cynical crimes of mad governments? Take a look at Chomsky's 1979 After the Cataclysm:

If a serious study…is someday undertaken, it may well be discovered…that the Khmer Rouge programs elicited a positive response…because they dealt with fundamental problems rooted in the feudal past and exacerbated by the imperial system.… Such a study, however, has yet to be undertaken.

Reflect that it was published three full years after the Cambodian Holocaust of the Year Zero. Ask yourself whether this is an uncovering or a covering of the crimes of an abominable regime. But it gets worse. Go back to your Nation of 1977, and consider the paragraph:

...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.

Of this, jamesd@echeque.com writes:

Sounds very impressive, does it not?  If... entirely respectable magazines denied the accusations that the Khmer Rouge had committed vast crimes... we cannot take seriously these allegations.... There must be some substantial evidence, presented by these magazines, that shows or strongly suggests that the refugees tales of terror were nonsense, right?... He claims that these are "conflicting reports" that justify disbelief in the alleged crimes of the Khmer Rouge....

In the case of the Economist, there are no [such] articles.... Presumably [Chomsky] refers to a letter to the Economist ... a letter replying to an entirely accurate article.... [T]his letter was indeed... ["provided"] by the Economist, but it is misleading to invoke [its] authority... the Economist opposes Chomsky's claims.

In the case of the Far Eastern Economic review the review did indeed publish an article that said almost, but not quite, what Chomsky represents it as saying.... Nayan Chanda ( Far Eastern Economic Review October 29 1976 ) does indeed doubt the refugees are telling the truth... but he... [presents no] evidence contradicting their stories. He does indeed say "thousands"... he does not say "at most in the thousands"... [he says] "the numbers killed are impossible to calculate."... 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....

Chomsky lies by misdirection.... [H]e said "[provided]" to associate the authority of the Economist with a letter to the editor... [he said] " at most in the thousands" as if it were a conclusion of an article... [in] the Far Eastern Economic Review....

I've looked through the Economist. If there's anything written by the Economist's staff that has evidence casting doubt on the Cambodian Holocaust, I missed it as well.

So why does Chomsky lie about the "highly qualified specialists"? The claim that it is "space limitations" rather than "nonexistence" that prevents their being named cannot be a claim made in good faith, can it? And why would anyone lie for Pol Pot, unless they were either a nut-boy loon or were being mendacious and malevolent in search of some sinister and secret purpose? But when I ask the Chomskyites why he would falsely claim in 1977 that accusations of Cambodian genocide had been disputed in the pages of the Economist and the Far Eastern Economic Review by "highly qualified specialists"judging "the full range of evidence" and that these highly-qualified specialists put a firm upper bound of "at most in the thousands" on Khmer Rouge executions, I get one or more of three responses:

  • What Chomsky wrote and said about the Khmer Rouge was a mistake, but it's uncharacteristic of his work.
  • Chomsky never said the Khmer Rouge were genocidal butchers, he only said that there wasn't conclusive evidence that they were genocidal butchers.
  • When a serious study of the Khmer Rouge is carried out, we will learn that most of the evidence of their "crimes" was faked by the Vietnamese after their conquest of Cambodia

I can't see how anyone can make the second claim in good faith: Chomsky not only said that there wasn't conclusive evidence that the Khmer Rouge were genocidal butchers, he wrote--falsely--that there was reliable evidence that they weren't genocidal butchers.

And I don't see how anyone can claim that Chomsky's lies are "uncharacteristic" of his work. There are just too damned many of them.

I tried (unsuccessfully) to ascertain the reasons for the appeal of Chomsky--to people who don't believe that the Khmer Rouge are benevolent friends of humanity, that Robert Faurisson is an apolitical liberal, and that U.S. intervention in Bosnia was motivated by metal mines and pipeline routes, that is--once before.

My Allergic Reaction to Noam Chomsky

Dear ****,

You had expressed disbelief at my strong and negative reaction (based on memories of the 1970s, when he seemed to be mocking those who tried to alert the outside world to the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia) when the name "Noam Chomsky" was raised. You said that Chomsky was one of the most intelligent, hardest-working, incisive, and moral voices on the left today.

And you suggested that I give him another chance.

So the next time I stopped by Cody's, I picked up one of Chomsky's books: his (1992) What Uncle Sam Really Wants (New York: Odonian Press: 1878825011).

But I only got to page 17. Then I put the book down--with my strong negative reaction confirmed.

The book begins by stating that it is first going to sketch out the history of U.S. foreign relations since World War II. By the second page Chomsky is in the middle of a brief discussion of planning for the postwar period. Four paragraphs are devoted to NSC 68 and its consequences, in which NSC 68 is exhibited in a vacuum. There is not a word about the gradual shift in U.S. policy from Rooseveltian cooperation with Stalin to Trumanesque confrontation, 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.

After a discussion of George Kennan, Chomsky wanders 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." But there is no contact with Bretton Woods, or the founding of the World Bank and the IMF, or with those--in the U.S. centered around social democrat Harry Dexter White--who actually made the policies that governed the postwar reconstruction of the global economy.

Chomsky then turns to political events in Europe in the aftermath of World War II. He begins by making it sound as though the U.S. armies conquered North Africa and Italy, and then Roosevelt decided to put fascists like Darlan and Badoglio back into power. The real history is more complicated: overextended U.S. forces and a willingness to make deals with little devils in order to get into a better position to fight the greater devil. I think that Roosevelt's decisions to back Darlan and Badoglio were mistakes: but they didn't happen the way that Chomsky says that they did.

Chomsky then moves on to how "CIA subversion" dispersed and suppressed the "anti-fascist resistance" in Italy, Greece, and Korea. No mention is made of the likely character of the regimes that would have come to power in the absence of U.S. support for the center and the right.

Now this is a 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 center and the right in Italy, Greece, and South Korea "expanded the cage" relative to what would have happened otherwise. It is possible to make the case that U.S. intervention in Italy, Greece, and South Korea was destructive. But any such case needs to be backed by a powerful argument that "antifascist" Italy, Greece, or South Korean governments would have been very different from the actual governments of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, or North Korea. Chomsky makes no such argument. Chomsky appears profoundly uninterested in informing any of his readers that his case has this missing piece.

Now let me make it clear what I am objecting to. I am not objecting here to claims that U.S. foreign policy in the late 1940s was disastrous because:

  • that there was a real possibility for a continuation of wartime good feeling had the U.S. been less confrontational
  • that Stalin might well, if properly placated, have been willing to accept Finland-like regimes all along his borders
  • that ramping up the U.S. to fight the Cold War did immense damage to our democratic institutions and liberties.

Indeed, I agree with one and a half of those three points. (Indeed, Dean Acheson himself agreed with at least one of them.) And smart and thoughtful people whom I respect believe in all three of them. People are allowed to follow different paths and reach different analytical conclusions than I do. I'm not an intellectual totalitarian. I'm a liberal who believes that society needs a diversified intellectual portfolio of well-informed views.

What I object to is that Chomsky is an intellectual totalitarian. What I object to is that Chomsky tears up all the trail markers that might lead to conclusions different from his, and makes it next to impossible for people unversed in the issues to even understand what the live and much-debated points of contention are. What I object to is that Chomskywrites not to teach, but to to brainwash: to create badly-informed believers in his point of view who won't know enough about the history or the background to think th eissues through for themselves.

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 programs for expansion. And Chomsky ruthlessly suppresses half the story of the Cold War--the story of the other side of the Iron Curtain. A naive reader of Chomsky would not even know that there was a complicated and much-debated set of issues here.

In my view, the first duty that any participant in a 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 a major intellectual foul. And in a world in which there are lots of people who try hard to tell it as it really happened, I see no reason why I should waste time reading someone who tries to tell it as it isn't.

And then there are Chomsky's casual lies:

  • ...that the (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 of people--a good chunk of them fascists and anti-semites--who had fought against the Nazis when the Nazis occupied eastern Europe, and fought against the Soviets after the Red Army drove west--for they wanted, and one can understand why, to be ruled by neither Hitler nor Stalin).
  • ...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" (the liberal extreme--in fact, the vital center for much of the period--was the position that Kennan was arguing against in the passage Chomsky quotes: the position held by those who did care deeply about human, rights, economic development, and democratization., and who made them the focus of a substantial chunk of U.S. postwar policy).
  • ...that "free trade is fine for economics departments and newpaper editorials, but nobody in the corporate world or the government takes the doctrines seriously" (I was in the government, and will be again. How dare he lie about what I take seriously?).

So by page 17 I had had more than enough. He's a sleazeball. I closed the book, and went on to read other things.

Sincerely yours,


Brad DeLong

Posted by DeLong at June 17, 2002 02:09 PM


Do not protest too much about Chomsky and his influence in the U.S.! After all, the only thing you need to suffer is the view of his books in the campus bookstore:). If you take a mainstream, left-of-center european newspaper (like Le Monde or El Pais) any given day, you may be surprised that he gets full pages as the "official" spokesperson of all the open-minded, democratic americans. That IS really bad.

In any case I could not agree more with you comments. You are right about the guy

Posted by: JFV on June 17, 2002 03:54 PM


When I hear "nut-boy loon", I come a-runnin'. But hey, I feel like I got here just after the train blew threw, and over, that other nut-boy loon. So what do I say when I have nothing to add? You already guessed:



Posted by: Tom Maguire on June 17, 2002 04:20 PM


Gary Farber writes:

Brad wonders what the appeal of Chomsky is. I think it's simple. Chomsky is an undeniably brilliant man, certainly in his field (regardless of where he's right or wrong; that's a separate issue from brilliance). Since he supplies some of the chief intellectual underpinning for contemporary US-is-evil theory, if you cite him, you must understand the True Depth of his analysis, and thus You, Too, Are Brilliant. And those who don't see how mutually brilliant Chomsky and You are, are Clearly Fools, not to mention dupes of the establishment that Manufactures Consent.


Us: appreciate and understand Chomsky -- Brilliant.

You: don't understand him -- Dupe and Fool.

Which would you rather be?

Posted by: Brad DeLong on June 17, 2002 05:54 PM


Here's what Noam Chomsky thinks of Vaclav Havel, a brave man and one of the heroes of our time. According to Chomsky, Havel is (i) "silly and morally repugnant", (ii) possessed of "supreme hypocrisy and audacity", (iii) "on a moral and intellectual level vastly below... Stalinist hacks," not to mention (iv) "mindless."

I interpret Chomsky's bile as the result of (a) his native personality, coupled with (b) the recognition that Havel is whom Chomsky wishes he had chosen to be--an intellectual who changed the world for the better, rather than someone who spent his life confusing the issues and running interference for Pol Pot, Ortega, Saddam Hussein, Milosevic, and Osama bin Laden to give them more running room.

March 1, 1990

Letter to Alexander Cockburn

Source: Alexander Cockburn, The Golden Age Is In Us (Verso, 1995), pp. 149-151

Dear Alex,

As a good and loyal friend, I can't overlook this chance to suggest to you a marvelous way to discredit yourself completely and lose the last minimal shreds of respectability that still raise lingering questions about your integrity. I have in mind what I think is one of the most illuminating examples of the total and complete intellectual and moral corruption of Western culture, namely, the awed response to Vaclav Havel's embarrassingly silly and morally repugnant Sunday School sermon in Congress the other day. We may put aside the intellectual level of the comments (and the response) -- for example, the profound and startlingly original idea that people should be moral agents. More interesting are the phrases that really captured the imagination and aroused the passions of Congress, editorial writers, and columnists -- and, doubtless, soon the commentators in the weeklies and monthlies: that we should assume responsibility not only for ourselves, our families, and our nations, but for others who are suffering and persecuted. This remarkable and novel insight was followed by the key phrase of the speech: the cold war, now thankfully put to rest, was a conflict between two superpowers: one, a nightmare, the other, the defender of freedom (great applause).

Reading it brought to mind a number of past experiences in Southeast Asia, Central America, the West Bank, and even a kibbutz in Israel where I lived in 1953 -- Mapam, super-Stalinist even to the extent of justifying the anti-Semitic doctor's plot, still under the impact of the image of the USSR as the leader of the anti-Nazi resistance struggle. I recall remarks by a Fatherland Front leader in a remote village in Vietnam, Palestinian organizers, etc., describing the USSR as the hope for the oppressed and the US government as the brutal oppressor of the human race. If these people had made it to the Supreme Soviet they doubtless would have been greeted with great applause as they delivered this message, and probably some hack in Pravda would have swallowed his disgust and written a ritual ode.

I don't mean to equate a Vietnamese villager to Vaclav Havel. For one thing, I doubt that the former would have had the supreme hypocrisy and audacity to clothe his praise for the defenders of freedom with gushing about responsibility for the human race. It's also unnecessary to point out to the half a dozen or so sane people who remain that in comparison to the conditions imposed by US tyranny and violence, East Europe under Russian rule was practically a paradise. Furthermore, one can easily understand why an oppressed Third World victim would have little access to any information (or would care little about anything) beyond the narrow struggle for survival against a terrorist superpower and its clients. And the Pravda hack, unlike his US clones, would have faced a harsh response if he told the obvious truths. So by every conceivable standard, the performance of Havel, Congress, the media, and (we may safely predict, without what will soon appear) the Western intellectual community at large are on a moral and intellectual level that is vastly below that of Third World peasants and Stalinist hacks -- not an unusual discovery.

Of course, it could be argued in Havel's defense that this shameful performance was all tongue in cheek, just a way to extort money from the American taxpayer for his (relatively rich) country. I doubt it, however; he doesn't look like that good an actor.

So, here's the perfect swan song. It's all absolutely true, even truistic. Writing something that true and significant would also have a predictable effect. The sign of a truly totalitarian culture is that important truths simply lack cognitive meaning and are interpretable only at the level of 'Fuck You', so they can then elicit a perfectly predictable torrent of abuse in response. We've long ago reached that level -- to take a personal example, consider the statement: 'We ought to tell the truth about Cambodia and Timor.' Or imagine a columnist writing: 'I think the Sandinistas ought to win.' I suspect that this case is even clearer. It's easy to predict the reaction to any truthful and honest comments about this episode, which is so revealing about the easy acceptance of (and even praise for) the most monstrous savagery, as long as it is perpetrated by Us against Them -- a stance adopted quite mindlessly by Havel, who plainly shares the utter contempt for the lower orders that is the hallmark of Western intellectuals, so at least he's 'one of us' in that respect.

Anyway, don't say I never gave you a useful suggestion.



Cambridge, Massachusetts

Posted by: Joseph de Maistre on June 17, 2002 06:08 PM


RE: "that Stalin might well, if properly placated, have been willing to accept Finland-like regimes all along his borders."

Stalin was "willing to accept Finland-like regimes all along his borders" because he had no choice.

He tried hard to conquer Finland, but the Finish army, and Finland sharpshooting "militia," were too much for him and he sought a truce.

Posted by: Tom Locker on June 17, 2002 09:05 PM


The first two lines are from "The Princess Bride". Do I get bonus points?

Posted by: Bob on June 18, 2002 07:54 AM


Brad, in terms of any 'cult of Chomsky', notice

what a mention of him drew to your site - not exactly his defenders.

Posted by: Barry on June 18, 2002 09:11 AM


I read your original "Allergic Reaction" article a while ago, and I thought you did an excellent job of providing rational criticism of Chomsky's arguments -- in particular, pointing out his omission of relevant facts. (By the way, I looked up the Kennan quote: Chomsky was misrepresenting Kennan. Kennan was arguing that US strategy in the Far East ought to focus on rebuilding Japan, rather than trying to keep China "democratic" -- which in 1948 meant propping up Chiang Kai-Shek.)

People who aren't familiar with history are particularly vulnerable to being taken in by Chomsky. Having more rational criticism of Chomsky available on the web would help. (Right now, Chomsky tends to be either ignored or vilified.)

I've written up a critical review of Chomsky's political writings, including links to any other rational criticisms of Chomsky that I could find, including yours. If someone types "noam chomsky review" into Google, it'll show up on the first page of hits. I don't think it'd convince someone who's a full-fledged Chomsky supporter, but perhaps it'd help with people who aren't sure.

I've gotten quite a few hits so far, as well as some interesting feedback from Chomsky supporters. (I asked Chomsky himself if he'd like to read it and comment, but he politely declined, saying that he didn't have the time.)

For any Chomsky supporters who are reading this, my personal opinion is that reading George F. Kennan will give you a much more accurate view of US foreign policy during the Cold War. (Kennan does not present an uncritical view of US foreign policy--far from it.) See George F. Kennan on the Web.

Russil Wvong

Vancouver, Canada

Posted by: Russil Wvong on June 18, 2002 09:55 AM


The essence of Chomskyism can be found in his article, "The Responsibility of Intellectuals" (Mosaic, 1966). He begins with first principles, "It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies." Good show, then. But, now he produces knee-jerk material which has limited factual basis. Why? In the same article he writes, "A good case can be made for the conclusion that there is indeed something of a consensus among intellectuals who have already achieved power and affluence, or who sense that they can achieve them by 'accepting society' as it is and promoting the values that are 'being honored' in this society. And it is also true that this consensus is most noticeable among the scholar-experts who are replacing the free-floating intellectuals of the past." That is a good argument for the value of critical thinking, or dissidence, but Wright Mills said it better. Where did Chomsky go wrong? He set himself up as a straw-man. He became a critic for criticism' sake, or sort of an American Anti-Christ (a good title for a Chomsky biography).

Chomsky adopted the very posture that Julien Benda warned about in "Le Trahison de Clercs" (1927). He became a neo-scholasticist, who has chosen to devote the remainder of his life towards a monkish reinforcement of dogma that supports his self-image as: THE OPPOSITION. Working under that one-dimensional framework, his entire post-1966 regurgitation of variant forms of the same theme - America bad; America's ends good - is nothing but a collection of half-truths, propped by brazen lies. In order to maintain his cherished position as Caudillo of the OPPOSITION, Chomsky has substituted fiction for fact. Satisfied at being a one-trick pony, Chomsky has completed his self-portrait: a cartoon producing caricature. Chomsky lies for the same reason that he accused his colleagues of "values" tunnel-vision in 1966. The motivation is: status defense.

Benda said of the pre-Chomsky prototype who were polluting his generation with unearthly individualistic schemes, produced for nominally collectivistic ends, "...the logical end of the 'integral realism' professed by humanity to-day is the organized slaughter of nations and classes". History provides serial proof: transcendent ends are only achieveable by depraved means. That should have been the lesson of World War II.

The civilized world has fought Caesaro-papists, Fascists and Communists, and we now fight genocidal Islamists. The Chomsky- prototype, which either favored or favors the promotion of appeasement of these perverse forms of human organization, has treated these global-historical miscreants as useful partners in the chiliastic pursuit for a transcendent order. Through Chomsky's depraved alliances, his self-interested diabolizations, his moral disarmament campaigns, his social engineering schemes, his philosophical monarchism, his transcendental nihilism, his memory selectivism, his amoral absolutism, he has earned the title: barbarian-king.

Posted by: RG Fulton on June 18, 2002 06:27 PM


Good Work by you.

Chomsky did some good work too, about 55 years ago. I believe that he invented the push down stack,a key concept in computer science, in the late 1940's. It was straight down hill from there.

He may be the best argument for abolishing tenure.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz on June 19, 2002 12:02 AM


I linked to your piece on the Well. For what it's worth, someone there has claimed that the Faurisson piece was not written as a preface, but was an opinion piece for which Chomsky waived copyright, and which Faurisson then reprinted without asking Chomsky.

That doesn't change the important issues, but it is a little different than writing a preface for the book.

Posted by: Soren deSelby on June 19, 2002 09:30 AM


Its always easiest to attack someone's arguments at their weakest points instead of their strongest. I'm not a Chomsky "defender" by ANY stretch of the imagination, but I do think that instead of resorting to personal slanders against the man (sleazeball, nut-boy loon) which, lets face it, is a pretty low level of intellectual discourse, one might be better off refuting his arguments at their best. Don't let him get under your skin!

For example, as Chomsky argues, does the US's support for Saddam throughout the 1980's deny them any creditability in dispensing with him now? The US has run a great deal more "interference" for Saddam (pre-Kuwait invasion for certain and perhaps during or after, we don't really know) than 1000 Noam Chomskies combined. Thats just the facts. This would be a good discussion to have, even if one disagreed with Chomsky's conclusion (as I do). And Chomsky is one of few out there provoking discussions of this kind.

So I guess my point is that despite his imperious writing style (he writes as a polemicist not a scholar) which is a complete put off, I do think there are some insights to be gained from his work. The trick is to ignore his over moralizing trap of 'either you agree with everything I say or you are manufacturing consent.' But I suppose thats how he writes so he deserves the crit for that. The 'Chomsky cult' is no doubt bizarre and troubling but its also fair to add that Chomsky finds it bizarre and troubling, as well.

Posted by: Jonathan Levy on June 20, 2002 10:34 AM


Surely, for example, telling out and out whopping lies to cover for the Khmer Rouge goes somewhat beyond Polemicism! For that matter, why does Noam Chomsky tell such out and out whopping lies to cover for the Khmer Rouge?

Indeed, I too will not be all that surprised should history "discover" that the Khmer Rouge started out with some incisively relevant campaign promises, as it where, before betraying their revolution. But is that actually why Noam Chomsky tells such out and out whopping lies to cover for the Khmer Rouge? Because the Khmer Rouge is such an embarrassment to an otherwise good cause?

So, at what point should we question the workability of whatever premi that so oft go so bloodily awry? And how deep must we delve and how hard must we hold our noses to grok Noam Chomsky's stunning quality insights?

To seriously consider the possibility that war in the Balkans and through out the Third World has been very much avoidable for decades and hasn't been largely because internationally destabilizing Multinational Military-Industrial Monopolism actually has no interest in fostering competitive emerging free markets and new democracies, not to mention that obscene profits are made in war no matter how worthless the Real Estate, do we need Noam Chomsky?

Is Noam Chomsky actually our only prominent voice? Can we truly be that desperate as to ally with Noam Chomsky just as Noam Chomsky and Hanoi Jane Fonda peddled alliance with the Viet Kong?

At least Winston Churchill was upfront about his pact with the devil Joe Stalin!

Posted by: Aaron Agassi on October 11, 2002 06:00 AM


What about Saint Noam the Liar's other citations?

They always go to the far flung regions of space, or are dishonest, or do not say what he says they say.

For instance in his book of lies "Turning the Tides" his source for his claim that the Contras were terrorists, and by that I mean had a policy of intentionally targeting innocent civilians, is the dishonest and infamous Reed Brody report(pp10-11), according to Chomsky this report was written...

"...at the initiative of a New York law firm representing Nicaraguan interests..."

Actually, it was written by a commie sympathizer who was told to do so by a Sandinista funded left-wing law firm. This dishonest and discredited report is his source.

Chomsky is like his sources. Dishonest and discredited, anyway...

When Chomsky claims the Contras were terrorists, he leaves out the fact 4 out of 5 of the fatalities in their operations were Sandinista soldiers, which the Sandinistas admitted to.

This ratio proves logically the Contras were attacking legitimate military targets, or the civilian casualties would be Hizbollah like, or a ratio like that of the Viet Cong who murdered far more innocent civies than killed anti-Communist soldiers.

my source-"Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family,"

Chomsky also in his dishonest book quotes a Contra leader to show that he is killing civilians on page 11, but he then slides to a footnote the Conra leader his next sentence:

"We are not killing civilians."

But now he says that terror is a weapon of the strong used against the weak(which is of course a lie), but wouldn't the Sandinista's being popular(which they weren't)and the Contras being as weak as they were in the beggining, make it not possible for the Contras to be terrorists since they are not the strong?

Really Chomsky and his ilk's hipocracy, double standards, and dishonestly knows no bounds.

They are clearly wrong about everything from the Vietnam War, to the Cold War, to the Free Market and etc.

Anyone can see this by lokking at their "sources" and what they say, and not just blindly accepting his and Zinn and the like's crap.

But maybe they need more proof before they stop worshipping Saint Noam the Liar.

He even defended the rigged 1984 elections on pages 137-143. Depsite the fact that the only remaining independent newspaper was censored and that opposition campaign rallies were broken up by the Turbas amongst other things the Sandinistas did to silence the opposition.

In fact his "popular"(translation from Chomsky-speak means totalitarian and murderous)never won a free election in 1990, 1996 & 2001.

Chomsky ignores the defectors from the Sandinista Marxist-Leninst Tyranny like Roger Miranda, chief of staff to Sandinista Defense Minister Humberto Ortega, who wrote that an anti-democratic anti Marxist-Leninist tyranny that was allied to the Soviets and exporting "revoultion" in Central America.

Roger Miranda, "The Civil War in Nicaragua,"

In fact the anti-Semitism of the Sandinistas, oppresion of the Misikto Indians, and the murder and torture used by the Sandinistas has been admitted to ahve been done by the Sandinistas.

So Chomsky is clearly wrong, yet he keeps asserting his old lies from what I have seen.

I could go on and on but I won't.

Chomsky is not smart, he is just a proffesional liar, who is so in service of the "revolution" of course.

Posted by: Rob Mosley on January 11, 2003 02:04 PM


To Mr Robert Schwartz,

Chomsky did not invent the push-down stack. He and the French mathematician Schutzenberger did a proof showing the equivalence of something called context-free grammars and push-down automata. I feel strongly that this is a major and important intellectual achievement. I feel equally strongly that there are scores of mathematicians and computer scientists of equal impact who are not libertarian socialists basing their views on among others the ancient Dutch socialist Anton Pannekoek - an outdated and completely forgotten figure in his homeland; and I should know, because I am Dutch.

In my home country socialists and social-democrats have been cleansed by the Berlin Wall coming down. The confrontation with Utopia shocked many into realism. A Pannekoek, one of Chomsky's sources of inspiration, would never ever be taken seriously in Dutch political discourse. There may be an odd student doing his dissertation on Pannekoek, but that sums it up.

Now we face the rather hilarious situation that an old-fashioned anarchist socialist rules the day in the land of Classical Liberalism, the New Frontier stint long-forgotten, whereas in rather more social-democratic Holland Chomsky's intellectual ancestors, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Anton Pannekoek are gathering dust in libraries at the University of Amsterdam.

Posted by: Koos on January 21, 2003 06:44 PM


I far rather defend Chompski's Linguistics than his Propaganda.

Posted by: Aaron Agassi on February 3, 2003 11:07 PM


I far rather defend Chomski's Linguistics than his Propaganda.

Posted by: Aaron Agassi on February 3, 2003 11:08 PM


Noam Chomsky taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: The necessity of a narrow interpretation of credentials. As noted above, he is a professional Linguist, and my first encounter with his thinking was in that capacity. And so, I began with a passing respect for the man.

However, what has made Noam Chomsky famous, and what brought him to my atttention several years later, are his political writings. Noam Chomsky has no reasonable credential beyond, say a journalist, as a commentator on politics, economics, or law, international or domestic. Journalists, I should note, are generally not themselves experts on anything, and their opinions are best evaluated in that context. The world is full of pundits, especially on 24-hour cable TV news and on the internet. Noam Chomsky was the first example I ever encountered of the folly of paying any serious attention to a pundit.

As a graduate student, I first became familiar with the political writings of Chomsky, and of many of his political fellows, via the website www.zmag.org. I was amazed at its extensive library of "alternative" media and history on just about everything. I recall in particular how I watched the WTO demonstrations (riots) errupt from two wildly different viewpoints, as if the mainstream and alternative media were reporting completely different things. I spent a good several years trying to sort out for myself how Z-net and CNN could present such wildly variant views of the world. I was particularly troubuled because many of the arguments of the alternative press resonated with me, and continue to: the emphasis capitalism places on personal interest rather than collective interest can cause some real problems ("externalities," I believe), the conglomeration of media into a few corporate hands can create a vehicle for distortion of the truth, the US government appears to have done some pretty nasty things during the cold war.

Aside from some specific conclusions I came to on each of these issues, some of which are stated very well in Brad DeLong's allergic reaction to Chomsky, I was only able to stop reading Zmag and its more respectable cousin The Nation when I came to the following realization about the meaning of credentials.

In any debate between a professional Linguist and a professional Economic Historian, the layman, i.e someone who lacks expertise in either Linguistics or Economic History, must lend vastly more credence to the argument backed by the relevant expertise.

As in an idealized court, expert testimony should only be considered if it is delivered by someone with the relevant expertise. A shocking proportion of the people, like Chomsky, who write for Zmag and other alternative media have no real relevant expertise and do not interview or source anyone with relevant expertise. Similarly, much of what I see on CNN or any news program must similarly be dismissed as irrelevant opinions of non-experts. A co-worker of mine routinely observes about the reporting of science in the news: whenever you know the facts of the story, the news report has made some material mistake. This stems directly from journalists' lack of relevant expertise. Similarly, some of Brad DeLong's thoughts on this website stretch beyond the reach of his credentials, and thus should not be given much credence, 'though they are often amusing and thought-provoking.

Brad DeLong's reply to Chomsky, is, however, uniquely appropriate. It is one of very few examples where someone with the right expertise takes on Chomsky. The debate on Chomsky is a voluminous one, and as a previous post noted, much of it is not very rational. It is probably a testament to Chomsky's own irrelevance (and, technically speaking, incompetence) that few credentialed economists or historians have bothered to critique him at any length.

Disturbingly, however, Chomsky is still widely read and taught in university humanities departments. Thus, the cult continues to grow, as still more specifically ill-equipped students are exposed only to Noam Chomsky and not to Brad Delong (or any other credentialed economist or historian, for that matter).


Posted by: Paul O'Brien on February 9, 2003 01:01 AM


Its abundantly clear that Chomsky twists the facts to his own ends and is not someone who merits a serious discussion of his political v views. Rather, Noam Chomsky is the consummate self-hating Jewish American, that is, he hates himself both for being Jewish and for being an American. The common denominator is that both groups as a whole have wealth and power, something he doesn't have and therefore resents deeply. Suicide would indeed be a fitting end to such a person.

Posted by: Joseph Edelman on April 6, 2003 02:51 PM


Its abundantly clear that Chomsky twists the facts to his own ends and is not someone who merits a serious discussion of his political v views. Rather, Noam Chomsky is the consummate self-hating Jewish American, that is, he hates himself both for being Jewish and for being an American. The common denominator is that both groups as a whole have wealth and power, something he doesn't have and therefore resents deeply. Suicide would indeed be a fitting end to such a person.

Posted by: Joseph Edelman on April 6, 2003 02:51 PM


First, let me say that I don't think Joseph Edelman's comment (that Chomsky ought to commit suicide) is appropriate.

I find it interesting that Edward Herman took the time to write a line-by-line response which is much longer than the original article (although he doesn't address the second part of Brad DeLong's article, the original "My Allergic Reaction", which discusses Chomsky's representation of the early Cold War in "What Uncle Sam Really Wants"). I wonder how he came across the "Very, Very Allergic Reaction" article in the first place; my guess is Eric Alterman's blog entry.

Herman accuses DeLong of name-calling (which is true -- DeLong does describe Chomsky as a "nut-boy loon"), but Herman certainly doesn't restrain his own invective: "very short on intellectual integrity", "preening self-regard and pomposity", "regurgitates foolish patriotic truths", "displays abysmal ignorance", "rules out evidence and rational discourse", "no serious analyses or answers", "the trick of a smear artist", "an obscurantist masterpiece", "much sarcasm and sneers", "hit-and-run smear job", "goes into a tantrum", "shows that his own 'good faith' and intellectual integrity are non-existent", "an apologist for genocidal butchers", "deep-seated chauvinistic biases",
"intellectually degraded and dishonest smear job."

(As an aside, this is one of the things I most dislike about Chomsky himself: his attacks on anyone who disagrees with him, describing them as stupid, evil, or both. Wouldn't it be better to refrain from ad hominem attacks?)

Getting into a flaming match with a professional flamer seems like a bad idea. Let me try to filter out Herman's insults and address his arguments. For my own view of Chomsky, see

1. Evidence that Chomsky's admirers seem to form a kind of cult: I've seen Chomsky fans describe Chomsky as "a god among us" and compare him to the Taj Mahal. There's a website called Church of Chomsky -- the maintainer says things like "Lord Chomsky has spoken."

2. That NATO went to war in Bosnia and Kosovo for cynical great power reasons. From reading Mark Danner's long series of articles in the New York Review of Books, I think it's a little too simple to say that the US government was motivated by humanitarian reasons, but it's pretty close. The Bosnian Serbs were conducting what amounted to mass murder, complete with death camps. Something like 200,000 civilians died, mostly Bosnian Muslims; 2.7 million became refugees. In particular, the siege of Sarajevo was televised worldwide, causing widespread public revulsion and pressure to _do something_, especially in Europe. This was followed by the massacre at Srebrenica, where a supposed "UN safe haven" was overrun. The Bosnian Muslims weren't selected as US clients for "cynical great power reasons"; the US and NATO intervened because the Bosnian Muslims were getting slaughtered on worldwide television.

It's not necessary to believe "higher patriotic truths" about Clinton and Blair being great humanitarians, only that (a) they're human, and likely shared the revulsion felt by the public; and (b) public opinion is an extremely powerful force.

Herman cites examples of the US backing the weaker side in a conflict, but I think DeLong's point stands: the Bosnian Muslims were practically unarmed (in particular, they had no heavy weapons).

One thing I do admire about Chomsky is his devotion to the cause of the underdog. His position on Bosnia and Kosovo surprises me, because the Muslims were clearly the underdogs.

3. Chomsky's statement that Faurisson appears to be a "relatively apolitical liberal", and that he's seen no evidence of anti-Semitism on Faurisson's part.

Chomsky is responding, in part, to a long article discussing Faurisson's writings by Pierre Vidal-Naquet ("A Paper Eichmann") which appeared in the September 1980 issue of Esprit. (Vidal-Naquet mentioned in passing Chomsky's signing a petition in support of Faurisson's freedom of speech, and described this as "scandalous"; this is what provoked Chomsky to write his letter describing Faurisson as a "relatively apolitical liberal.")

I don't see anyone could read "A Paper Eichmann" and not see any evidence that Faurisson is indeed anti-Semitic. How could anyone who doesn't hate the Jews adhere to the following belief, after doing extensive historical research on Hitler and World War II? "Hitler's Germany does not bear the principal responsibility for the Second World War. It shares that responsibility, for example, with the Jews (Faurisson in Verite, p. 187), or it may even not bear any responsibility at all." See Section 4 of Vidal-Naquet's article:

4. Cambodia: I think Bruce Sharp's article does a very good job of analyzing Chomsky and Herman's writings on Cambodia.

Just one point that I'd like to highlight: Herman refers to "the widespread mainstream claims of two million massacred", but he doesn't say whether these claims were accurate or not. In fact, it appears that they were. Bruce Sharp: "Craig Etcheson, formerly the head of Yale University's Cambodia Genocide Project, notes that as of 1999, the Documentation Center of Cambodia had mapped the locations of more than 20,000 mass graves, containing 1,112,829 remains described as 'victims of execution.' ... In any case, Etcheson estimates excess deaths from all causes (execution, starvation, overwork, and so on) to be between 2.0 and 2.5 million, with a most-likely figure of roughly 2.2 million deaths."

Posted by: Russil Wvong on July 26, 2003 08:09 AM


"In the early 1990s, primarily for cynical great power reasons, the U.S. selected Bosnian Muslims as their Balkan clients..." On its face this is ludicrous. When the United States selects clients for cynical great power reasons, it selects strong clients"
And of course the Nicaraguan contras, Savimbi’s UNITA in Angola, the little rag-tag forces in Nicaragua that it organized to invade Guatemala in 1954, Somoza’s Nicaragua, the Florida and Nicaragua-based invasion force for the Bay of Pigs, the remnants of Chiang Kai Shek’s defeated army in northern Burma following the victory of the communists in China in 1949, Chiang’s Taiwan from 1949, the Persian Gulf Emirates were also 'strong clients'?

Not to mention the fact that the bosnian muslems actually were US clients. Let's just conveniently ignore the great mass of evidence cited on the subject. (e.g., Lord David Owen’s Balkan Odyssey, Susan Woodward’s Balkan Tragedy, or Diana Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade). Let's not mention the fact that the US, in collaboration with the Saudis and Bin Laden, ferried massive supplies and mujahadin troops into Bosnia (as described in detail in the Dutch report on Srebrenica)

"Like his writing a preface ... supposed to be high quality insights?"
Was it 'space limitations' that prevented you from actually linking to the 'preface'?
which clearly states: "First: I am concerned here solely with a narrow and specific topic, namely, the right of free expression of ideas, conclusions and beliefs" [Way to downplay the actual point being made in your sarcastic pun on the reaction of 'chomskyites']
Chomsky makes it very clear that the views of civil liberties victims -loathsome or not- were irrelevant in decisions as to whether they should be defended.

"Reflect that it was published three full years after the Cambodian Holocaust of the Year Zero."
Must be them space limitations again... Which serious study exactly? Ponchaud’s 'Cambodge annee zero' perhaps?

"Chomsky presented the Far Eastern Economic Review as confidently denying the possibility that killings were vastly higher, but Chanda specifically denies such knowledge and confidence."
I guess you missed the quotes: 'the numbers killed are impossible to calculate.' and 'leaves no doubt: the number of deaths has been terribly high' that appeared in after the cataclysm on page 229.
Not to mention that the book also quotes Twining’s estimate of killings in the thousands or hundreds of thousands, Richard Holbrooke’s estimate of tens if not hundreds of thousands and Timothy Carney's estimate of in the hundreds of thousands (pages 159-160).

Main source:

Posted by: Nick Wierckx on July 29, 2003 02:51 PM


Is this really what is usually meant by Ad Hominem, Russil Wvong? Much of the vitriol in question is actually very much to the point, alas. Apologism is apologism, after all. Such does not merely impugn motive, but is actually descriptive of the work, the text, in question. Thus it is not mere Ad Hominem. Besides, not simply Chomsky's writing but his political Activism are germane to topic. Whereas, by contrast, "nut job" is not similarly informative, nor otherwise at all relevant unless any part of topic actually includes Psychiatric profiling and for any good reason.

And decidedly no, Chomsky has never championed the underdog. Rather, indeed, much like the USA, Chomsky consistently champions the violent parasite who's host is the underdog! This he calls "self determination" much as the USA calls it "liberation". Permission to vomit? Or would that be emotional and unseemly? I can only hope that my own humane strong emotions will never be twisted by me into the hypocrisy of dueling ideologues.

Posted by: Aaron Agassi on December 13, 2003 12:25 AM


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