July 14, 2003

Notes: Khmer Rouge

Bruce Sharpe (2002), Cambodia: Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman: Averaging Wrong Answers (http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/chomsky.htm).

Posted by DeLong at July 14, 2003 01:21 PM | TrackBack

Comments

The author quotes Chomsky often but the quotes are all short and out of context. I am not enough of a Chomsky scholar to discern whether the the article represents his views honestly or not. Brad, I would love to hear your commentary on the article and/or on Chomsky in general.

Posted by: David Knight on July 14, 2003 08:19 PM

"the quotes all short and out of context" Huh? There are quotes of 15 lines! And if you are not a Chomsky-scholar how do you know then that the quotes are "out of context"?
It seems to me that your remark is typical for someone who has heard that Chomsky is a fighter for the underdog and against American imperialism. So he must be good and right. People critical of him must be bad and wrong. So they quote him "out of context". But i think the article of Bruce Sharp is right on the mark: Chomsky himself is a "propagandist", and doesn't hesitate to distort reality to further his cause.

Posted by: ivan janssens on July 15, 2003 04:01 AM


Being pressed for time, I read this article grad-student style: Introduction/First Chapter, first and last two or three paragraphs of each subsequent chapter, Final Chapter/Conclusion.

(If an article is well written, this will give you 80% of the content in 20% of the time. If it's not well written, why then, it's not well written -- be glad you didn't waste any more time on it. But I digress.)

Anyhow, I was rolling along, thinking, uh huh, sounds reasonable, uh huh...

... and then I came to the bit where he cites James Donald's website.

Full stop.

James Donald is... hm, how to put this politely. Eccentric. Impassioned. A holder of very strong and unusual opinions.

He reads a lot of comic books. Nothing wrong with that. But he, um, believes them. (Don't take my word for it. Google a bit and see for yourself.)

Anyhow. Point being, it's a good example of the danger of citing to webpages. Donald's Chomsky page is his magnum opus, and he's gone to some effort to make it look respectable. But if you google around just a little bit, you'll realize that you're dealing with someone who is neither a scholar nor trying to be.

For the record, I have a low opinion of Chomsky's politics and a lower one of his political writings. I consider the Cambodia thing a bit of a red herring -- who cares what Chomsky thought? The two million dead seem to be the more important fact here. -- But I was mildly interested in the paper nonetheless; always good to learn new things, and you never know when you may meet a Chomskyite.

But the cite to James Donald, while completely trivial, knocked me right out. It was like... finding a cite to the _Protocols of the Elders of Zion_ in an otherwise serious discussion of Israeli security policy. The intellectual equivalent of finding a roach leg at the edge of your plate. Even if it's not touching anything important, it still will affect how you view the meal.


Doug M.

Posted by: Doug Muir on July 15, 2003 10:43 AM


Being pressed for time, I read this article grad-student style: Introduction/First Chapter, first and last two or three paragraphs of each subsequent chapter, Final Chapter/Conclusion.

(If an article is well written, this will give you 80% of the content in 20% of the time. If it's not well written, why then, it's not well written -- be glad you didn't waste any more time on it. But I digress.)

Anyhow, I was rolling along, thinking, uh huh, sounds reasonable, uh huh...

... and then I came to the bit where he cites James Donald's website.

Full stop.

James Donald is... hm, how to put this politely. Eccentric. Impassioned. A holder of very strong and unusual opinions.

He reads a lot of comic books. Nothing wrong with that. But he, um, believes them. (Don't take my word for it. Google a bit and see for yourself.)

Anyhow. Point being, it's a good example of the danger of citing to webpages. Donald's Chomsky page is his magnum opus, and he's gone to some effort to make it look respectable. But if you google around just a little bit, you'll realize that you're dealing with someone who is neither a scholar nor trying to be.

For the record, I have a low opinion of Chomsky's politics and a lower one of his political writings. I consider the Cambodia thing a bit of a red herring -- who cares what Chomsky thought? The two million dead seem to be the more important fact here. -- But I was mildly interested in the paper nonetheless; always good to learn new things, and you never know when you may meet a Chomskyite.

But the cite to James Donald, while completely trivial, knocked me right out. It was like... finding a cite to the _Protocols of the Elders of Zion_ in an otherwise serious discussion of Israeli security policy. The intellectual equivalent of finding a roach leg at the edge of your plate. Even if it's not touching anything important, it still will affect how you view the meal.


Doug M.

Posted by: Doug Muir on July 15, 2003 10:48 AM


Being pressed for time, I read this article grad-student style: Introduction/First Chapter, first and last two or three paragraphs of each subsequent chapter, Final Chapter/Conclusion.

(If an article is well written, this will give you 80% of the content in 20% of the time. If it's not well written, why then, it's not well written -- be glad you didn't waste any more time on it. But I digress.)

Anyhow, I was rolling along, thinking, uh huh, sounds reasonable, uh huh...

... and then I came to the bit where he cites James Donald's website.

Full stop.

James Donald is... hm, how to put this politely. Eccentric. Impassioned. A holder of very strong and unusual opinions.

He reads a lot of comic books. Nothing wrong with that. But he, um, believes them. (Don't take my word for it. Google a bit and see for yourself.)

Anyhow. Point being, it's a good example of the danger of citing to webpages. Donald's Chomsky page is his magnum opus, and he's gone to some effort to make it look respectable. But if you google around just a little bit, you'll realize that you're dealing with someone who is neither a scholar nor trying to be.

For the record, I have a low opinion of Chomsky's politics and a lower one of his political writings. I consider the Cambodia thing a bit of a red herring -- who cares what Chomsky thought? The two million dead seem to be the more important fact here. -- But I was mildly interested in the paper nonetheless; always good to learn new things, and you never know when you may meet a Chomskyite.

But the cite to James Donald, while completely trivial, knocked me right out. It was like... finding a cite to the _Protocols of the Elders of Zion_ in an otherwise serious discussion of Israeli security policy. The intellectual equivalent of finding a roach leg at the edge of your plate. Even if it's not touching anything important, it still will affect how you view the meal.


Doug M.

Posted by: Doug Muir on July 15, 2003 10:53 AM

Urm... that piece by Christopher Hitchens is fine, but I don't know if you want to cite that particular website, Max.

Posted by: Jon on July 15, 2003 12:06 PM

Urm... that piece by Christopher Hitchens is fine, but I don't know if you want to cite that particular website, Max.

Posted by: Jon on July 15, 2003 12:11 PM

Bruce Sharp is pretty even-handed. When he cites James Donald, he does so in context, noting that James is at one extreme of the pro-Chomsky/anti-Chomsky spectrum: "There are several other Internet sites that discuss Chomsky's work on Cambodia. I do not necessarily agree with the viewpoints expressed on the sites linked here, but they do provide a glimpse of the nature of the debate on Chomsky's work. At the two extremes are articles by Dan Clore and James Donald, both of whom are frequent participants in [the] Chomsky newsgroup. Donald's site is entitled Chomsky Lies. Clore's rebuttal is Contortions at First Hand: James Donald on Noam Chomsky."

Posted by: Russil Wvong on July 15, 2003 02:03 PM

"I consider the Cambodia thing a bit of a red herring -- who cares what Chomsky thought? The two million dead seem to be the more important fact here."

Well, if Chomsky thought, about the Khmer Rouge, "Ya gotta break a few eggs to make an omlette..." I think that's important to know. At least it's important when evaluating what Chomsky advocates for other political situations.

I still remember this exchange between Lesley Stahl, and Madeleine Albright, regarding economic sanctions on Iraq:

Stahl: "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"

Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it."

http://www.fair.org/extra/0111/iraq.html

It certainly made *me* question Madeleine Albright's entire worldview.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 15, 2003 02:44 PM

"Brad, I would love to hear your commentary on the article and/or on Chomsky in general."

Just do a search on this site. You'll find that he points out that the first defense by Chomsky fans is always that he's being quoted "out of context."

Posted by: Mike G on July 15, 2003 07:33 PM

Well yes but deconstructing the impact of the US foreign policy in SE Asia will never be easy or necessarily accurate. Chomsky lost a lot trying to focus on the negative impact and Pol Pot didn't help. So was the bombing okay? How many people did we kill. Find me the numbers and I will grant you the press was fair, anything current at the time. Not so unlike Iraq.
I have to admit that his thoughts in the later 70, after the fall of Phnom Peng were difficult to understand This article thought seems to want his statements in 1972 to apply to 1975 when Phnom Peng actually turned into such a disaster. It does have a bit of a time problem.
The focus however has remained the same. What good will it do India to raise beef for McDonalds and how will it help the world if everybody drives an SUV? War doesn't help and the Amazon tribes are dispensable?

Posted by: Bruce Ferguson on July 15, 2003 08:14 PM

In my previous post I didn't mean to defend or attack anyone. I am no Chomsy cheerleader but I can see that his arguments are generally long and drawn out and so are very hard to capture in brief. To judge a commentary like the one linked to one needs to either have good previous knowledge of Chomsky or else one needs to rely on secondary commentary.

Posted by: David Knight on July 16, 2003 08:23 AM

Urm... that piece by Christopher Hitchens is fine, but I don't know if you want to cite that particular website, Max.


Ouch. My bad. I should have checked. I just grabbed the first URL for it that I found. But the article is the article, unless it isn't.

Posted by: Max Sawicky on July 16, 2003 09:44 AM
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