Accessed 01 August 2001
The Khmer Rouge Canon 1975-1979:
The Standard Total Academic View on Cambodia
[The footnotes were incorrectly coded and I have not had time to correct them all. If you are reading the whole of this thesis it would be best to print out the footnote page.] Footnotes
Starvation and Revolution
At Cornell, George McTurnan Kahin, director of the Southeast Asia program from 1961 to 1970, and professor of international relations at the University since 1951, became an expert on the Vietnam conflict. One of his students was Gareth Porter, soon to become a leading "scholar" on both Cambodia and Vietnam. Kahin's foreword to Gareth Porter's and George C. Hildebrand's book, Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution (1976), praises it for "what is undoubtedly the best informed and clearest picture yet to emerge of the desperate economic problems brought about in Cambodia largely as a consequence of American intervention, and of the ways in which that country's new leadership has undertaken to meet them." Porter, who was probably a classmate of Laura Summers, co-authored the most famous book of all Khmer Rouge defenses published.
The Khmer Rouge Canon's Sine Qua Non
Nowhere was the war so brutal, so devoid of concern for human life, or so shattering in its impact on a society as in Cambodia. But while the U.S. government and news media commentary have contrived to avoid the subject of the death and devastation caused by the U.S. intervention in Cambodia, they have gone to great lengths to paint a picture of a country ruled by irrational revolutionaries, without human feelings, determined to reduce their country to barbarism. In shifting the issue from U.S. crimes in Cambodia to the alleged crimes of the Cambodian revolutionary government, the United States has offered its own version of the end of the Cambodian war and the beginning of the new government.
--Porter and Hildebrand, 1976
In 1976, SEAP graduate Gareth Porter, and his colleague George C. Hildebrand published a small, unread, but important book entitled Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution. It is important for two reasons: first, it was the first English-language book of the events unfolding in Cambodia (becoming the sine qua non for proponents of the standard total academic view). Second, it rationalized everything the Khmer Rouge did and were doing (from the evacuation of Phnom Penh residents and hospital patients to the forcing of monks into hard labor). It became a veritable bible for defending the Khmer Rouge. Kiernan, Chomsky, Herman, and Caldwell all referred to the book favorably. In Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, Porter and Hildebrand offer what appears to be insurmountable evidence contrary to the reports of atrocities taking place in revolutionary Cambodia, renamed Democratic Kampuchea.
Porter and Hildebrand's Sources
Using "suppressed" documents and "official" bulletins courtesy of the Government of Democratic Kampuchea, they argue that the April 17th, 1975 evacuation of Phnom Penh, was due to the U.S. war on the people of Cambodia, which resulted in the overpopulation of Phnom Penh (from 600,000 to 2-3 million between 1970 and 1975) and therefore its necessary evacuation. Furthermore, they argue that the explosion of corruption under the Lon Nol regime was the direct result of U.S. foreign aid, and that in turn, it exacerbated death, malnutrition, and disease in Phnom Penh, making it uninhabitable. Curiously, Porter and Hildebrand in their 100 plus pages book refer to the Khmer Rouge only by their more palatable coalition name of NUFK (National Front for a United Kampuchea, also known as "FUNK" in French acronyms). They pepper their book with propaganda photos directly from the new regime.
In chapter 2, titled "The Politics of Starvation in Phnom Penh" Porter and Hildebrand attack the media reports of atrocities, as did Summers in Current History, because they were based on a single account written by Sydney Shandberg for the New York Times three weeks after the evacuation while cooped up in the French embassy. Porter and Hildebrand write, "The article was a weak foundation for the massive historical judgment rendered by the news media. It contained no eyewitness reports on how the evacuation was carried out in terms of food, medical treatment, transportation, or the general treatment of evacuees." While it is true that Shandberg could not venture outside the embassy, from his vantage point he see more than Porter and Hildebrand could have, while in the United States. The point of not having eyewitnesses to corroborate or contradict reports of atrocities will becomes important when the Chomsky-Herman book is discussed at length in the following chapter. Continuing their critique of the mass media, Porter and Hildebrand write, "Nor was there any extensive analysis of the reasons Shandberg attributed to the revolutionary leadership for the action." Here, Porter and Hildebrand refer to the circumstances of postwar Cambodia, circumstances which they insist were deplorable because of U.S. actions that prompted the evacuation. Like Chomsky-Herman, they assert the evacuation saved lives.
Porter and Hildebrand discount stories similar to New York Times journalist Sydney Shandberg's as sensational (by of their titles alone) and write "commentators and editorialists expected revolutionaries to be `unbending' and to have no regard for human life, and because they were totally unprepared to examine the possibility that radical change might be required in that particular situation." Nowhere is the romance with revolutions more obvious than it is here. Porter and Hildebrand expect revolutionaries to bend and to be humanitarian because their indoctrination had taught that revolutions were good. Phnom Penh was in the jaws of starvation when the Khmer Rouge "liberated" it, so they argued, and that there was no other alternative than to evacuate everyone. By defending the Khmer Rouge, via justification of their policies, Porter and Hildebrand resort to official explanations and sources of information. Revolutions notwithstanding, there is no mention of any crime committed by the Khmer Rouge during the evacuation. On the other hand, numerous counterexamples of reasonable, if not caring Khmer Rouge behavior and demeanor, are forwarded.
More rigorous analyses supported by actual evidence suggests a rather more cynical desire to shut the economy down, reverse class order, and enslave the urban population. The controversy over the evacuation continues despite compelling evidence that suggests it was unnecessary and provoked numerous deaths. The Khmer Rouge's contempt for city dwellers is self-evident in one of their post-liberation broadcasts:
Upon entering Phnom Penh and other cities, the brother and sister combatants of the revolutionary army . . . sons and daughters of our workers and peasants . . . were taken aback by the overwhelming unspeakable sight of long-haired men and youngsters wearing bizarre clothes making themselves undistinguishable [sic] from the fair sex. . . . Our traditional mentality, mores, traditions, literature, and arts and culture and tradition were totally destroyed by U.S. imperialism and its stooges. Social entertaining, the tempo and rhythm of music and so forth were all based on U.S. imperialistic patterns. Our people's traditionally clean, sound characteristics and essence were completely absent and abandoned, replaced by imperialistic, pornographic, shameless, perverted, and fanatic traits. (FBIS IV, May 15, 1975:H4)
The anti-American theme was nothing new. After all, the FUNK fought U.S. imperialism. Perhaps, because of this, the followers of the standard total academic view were especially drawn to it. Ben Kiernan, who followed the STAV, interpreted this as forgivable nationalism. Porter and Hildebrand maintain that the evacuation was a reasonable course of action given low food reserves without American aid in sight. In retrospect, however, food supplies in Phnom Penh were not sufficiently low as to justify an evacuation to the countryside. If anything, it was the two month long shelling of the capital by the FUNK that resulted in the stranglehold on Phnom Penh. Furthermore, evidence that the evacuation was planned well before April suggests that strategic advantage, not the well-being of the citizens mattered to the Khmer Rouge. Hou Youn's dissertation had sufficiently maligned cities as to make them appear useless to the country. Not only was class order reversed, but city dwellers would be made to farm the land, in a complete occupational reversal. Charles Twinning explains:
An extraordinary [Cambodian communist] party congress held in February 1975, reportedly presided over by Khieu Samphan, is generally thought to have made the decision to evacuate cities and abolish all currency after the takeover. The fact that the cities were all emptied within several days of the fall, with the people knowingly directed to spots in the countryside where they camped at least temporarily, does not give the impression of a sudden, knee jerk action. This had all been organized before hand.
Another Porter and Hildebrand justification for Phnom Penh's evacuation is that since 5/6 of the population of Phnom Penh were refugees from the countryside, they were simply being returned to the countryside. This explanation sounds, oddly enough, reasonable. But why then, would over 800,000 peasants turn up dead?
Moreover, Porter and Hildebrand were concerned about the image of the Khmer Rouge as somehow inhumane. A romance with revolution dictates that it be humanitarian and just. Porter and Hildebrand describe the difficult choices the Khmer Rouge faced, and how their actions were rational.
Above all else, the NUFK [FUNK] leadership had to be concerned with food and health. The concentration of a large part of the population in the cities, where they were unproductive and totally dependent on foreign aid, posed grave dangers. On the one hand, attempt to maintain an adequate supply of rice for the urban population would have disrupted the existing highly organized system of agricultural production; on the other hand, extremely overcrowded conditions, combined with the breakdown of all normal public services, made the outbreak of a major epidemic highly probable.
With this in mind, the evacuation made sense to Porter and Hildebrand. The reasoning followed that: first, the conversion of unproductive labor to productive labor (from city to countryside) would prevent starvation and second, epidemics necessitate evacuations. Porter and Hildebrand assert that the 600,000 city dwellers of Phnom Penh (i.e., those who were supposed to be there to begin with) were justifiably taken into the countryside because their labor was needed for the task of cultivating rice. The claim becomes nothing short of utopian fantasy when they write, "The 500,000 to 600,000 urban dwellers would by growing their own food, by freeing others from the task of getting food to them, substantially increase the total produced. By remaining unproductive during the crucial months, on the other hand, they would reduce the amount of food available to everyone." Their logic is devoid of realistic consideration for the human toll, just as Summers' nonchalance reigned over the idea of evacuating millions away from home. When they take at face value Khmer Rouge vice-chairman Ieng Sary's claim that, "By going to the countryside, our peasants have potatoes, bananas, and all kinds of foods," they lose all sense of reality or objectivity. Stephen Morris said it best, "Serious students of communist regimes know that public utterances by communist officials and their media may or may not be true. But they are always made to serve a political purpose." Porter and Hildebrand accept all the positions and policies of the new regime, re-printing without reservation propaganda pictures of postwar Cambodian workers in the fields and factories working "happily".
Countering charges that the print media's characterization of the evacuation as a "death march," is another falsehood Porter and Hildebrand dispel. They argue that such untruths were "fostered by U.S. government statements, including `intelligence documents,'" They cite accounts contradicting claims of untoward behavior by the Khmer Rouge onto the population of Phnom Penh shortly after April 17. Most were from Phnom Penh Libere: Cambodge de l'autre sourire (1976), the very first book that favorably treated the Khmer Rouge evacuation of Phnom Penh. Gunn and Lee call it a "studied" account as opposed to the "banalized" version seen in the motion picture "The Killing Fields". Porter and Hildebrand conclude from this that the "death march" characterization was "unfounded."
Finally, leaving nothing to chance, Porter and Hildebrand hold that "the temporary clearing of most hospitals, far from being inhumane, was an act of mercy for the patients." They argue that the hospitals of Phnom Penh had become overcrowded and unhealthy. It was thus necessary, for the well-being of the patients, to evacuate them. And what could they expect onto the elsewhere? Porter and Hildebrand offer as an alternative a propaganda photo of a Khmer Rouge surgical team operating in 1974 as proof that better care was just a countryside away. Jean Lacouture retells an encounter he had with a Khmer Rouge supporter in which the former argued that "under the Lon Nol regime, medical practice was in the hands of the Americans, corrupt and decadent. These poor souls had to be ripped out, at all cost, from this alienating medical facility. [To which I replied:] A new `conspiracy of white coats.'" Porter's and Hildebrand's falls near the Norwegian journalist's.
The shameless propagandizing continued without refrain. Having rationalized the more gruesome Khmer Rouge actions, Porter and Hildebrand legitimize the leadership and sing its praises. They conclude the second chapter of Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, rather self-assuredly, by claiming that:
A careful examination of the facts regarding the evacuation of Cambodia's cities thus shows that the description and interpretation of the move conveyed to the American public was an inexcusable distortion of reality. What was portrayed as a destructive, backward-looking policy motivated by doctrinaire hatred was actually a rationally conceived strategy for dealing with the urgent problems that faced postwar Cambodia.
In chapter 3, Porter and Hildebrand explain the reasons behind Cambodia's agricultural revolution by legitimizing the Khmer Rouge leadership. In a juxtaposition of academic and peasants, they assert that because some of the Khmer Rouge leaders are doctors of philosophy, namely Khieu Samphan, Hou Youn and Hu Nim, which makes their policies well-thought out and legitimate. This romanticization seen not just here but elsewhere in Malcolm Caldwell's, Laura Summers' and Ben Kiernan's contributions to the STAV on Cambodia. In a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal opposing the U.S. State Department's half-million dollar grant to Yale University for the creation of database on Khmer Rouge crimes to be headed by Ben Kiernan, Stephen Morris writes, "Mr. Kiernan wrote that `Khieu Samphan's personality--particularly his assuming manner, ready smile and simple habits--endeared him to Khmer peasants. Himself a peasant by birth, he is said to have been somewhat ascetic in his behavior, but never fanatical and always calm.'"
Expectations of famine by Western intelligence sources for 1977 were dismissed by Porter and Hildebrand in light of FUNK broadcasts that claimed superb rice harvests due to superior two-cycle rice-farming under Khmer Rouge leadership. They write:
Tiev Chin Leng, former director of the port of Sihanoukville and a member of the NUFK [FUNK] residing in Paris, the 1975 crop amounted to 3.25 million tons of paddy, or about 2.2 million tons of rice. For the Cambodian people this bumper harvest represents 250 grams of rice per meal per adult, and 350 grams per meal doe worker on the production force.... In addition meat eating has increased, In the past, under the influence of Buddhist tradition, the peasants took little part in the slaughtering of animals, and ate very little meat.
Both points (including the statistics) reappear in Malcolm Caldwell's posthumously published essay turned book Kampuchea: Rationale for a Rural Policy (1979) reviewed in the following section. The unending gullibility of Porter and Hildebrand is itself incredible. However, that was not the end of it. For instance, Porter and Hildebrand believed that forcing monks to work was not an act that could "fairly be represented as religious persecution," because everyone else, they argued, old and young was forced to work, too.
Although Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution is about Cambodia, a good portion of it is devoted to blaming America for the starvation which, as it turns out, was tampered by the Khmer Rouge's liberation of Phnom Penh. Porter and Hildebrand leave no stone unturned in their critique of U.S. intervention and its destruction of Cambodia. Porter and Hildebrand describe a scissors-like extraction mechanism curiously like the Soviet law of primitive socialist accumulation, when they explain that modern industry would be fueled by "capital raised by the expansion of agricultural production." Their conclusion makes Cambodia the victim not of the Khmer Rouge, but of the Americans and the half decade of underdevelopment and destruction by U.S. bombs. In addition, the U.S. media, according to Porter and Hildebrand, was a co-conspirator in this cover-up, by not doing justice to Cambodia. Porter and Hildebrand fastidiously conclude that:
Cambodia is only the latest victim of the enforcement of an ideology that demands that social revolutions be portrayed as negatively as possible, rather than as responses to real human needs which the existing social and economic structure was incapable of meeting. In Cambodia--as in Vietnam and Laos--the systematic process of mythmaking must be seen as an attempt to justify the massive death machine which was turned against a defenseless population in a vain effort to crush their revolution.
As Porter and Hildebrand romanticize the "social revolutions," they reveal their motive: defending the Khmer revolution. Far from being scholarly or objective, they make evident their biases by citing, without so much as a pathetic reservation or qualification, the propaganda which forms their defense of the Khmer revolution ergo the Khmer Rouge. What they achieved, unquestionably, was the temporary confounding of the events in the new Kampuchea, perched from half the globe away, they played a role in legitimizing it for another three years. Next, we canonize the significant contributions of Malcolm Caldwell. Caldwell was an author, STAV scholar, tireless Khmer Rouge defender, and finally a victim of the Khmer Rouge themselves.
Malcolm Caldwell's Kampuchea
Another academic who romanticized the Khmer revolution and its revolutionaries was Malcolm Caldwell, a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was an economic historian "committed to the struggle of the colonized, oppressed, and impoverished against imperialism and neo-colonialism." In short, Caldwell became the leading academic supporter of the Khmer Rouge. His colleagues write upon his assassination that he "would not have liked to have gone down in history as an academic in the usual sense of the term. He would have wanted to be remembered as an activist on the British Left and an anti-imperialist fighter." Caldwell published a number of articles before submitting the draft of a paper titled "Cambodia: Rationale for a Rural Policy" was published after his death in 1979 under the auspices of James Cook University of North Queensland.
The introductory note by Hering and Utrecht in Malcolm Caldwell's South-East Asia echo similar points gathered from Porter and Hildebrand (1976) as well as Summers (1975 and 1976),
The Western Press, apparently feeling insulted and being outraged, excelled in negative reporting on developments in Kampuchea under the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary regime. Not only did strongly exaggerated reports on the mass killings in the regime appear in the Western mass media, but also reports of crop failures and hunger in Kampuchea. Contrary to this unfavorable reporting in the Western newspaper, Malcolm was able to find more reliable data and compose a much more favorable account of economic development in Kampuchea in the last two years before the Vietnamese invasion of January 1979. [Emphasis added.]
As the STAV scholars mobilized against the media's "negative reporting on developments in Kampuchea" they joined by one of their elder statesmen, Malcolm Caldwell. Although negative coverage did appear from various newspapers and magazines, it was never as concerted or organized as the editors assert, at least not until 1979. If anything, these reports were "fragmentary" according to analysis done for 1976 by Accuracy in the Media. Hering and Utrecht furthermore add,
Malcolm showed much concern about the incessant stream of disturbing reports on the high number of Kampucheans killed by their own leaders. There were, for Malcolm, two questions to be answered properly. The first was the likelihood or unlikelihood of the very high figures indicating 2 or 3 million people being killed. He made some investigations into the reliability of reports such as the ones distributed by the French priest Ponchaud. It was Noam Chomsky who drew Malcolm's attention to the fact that Ponchaud had heavily corrupted the newsreel broadcast by Radio Phnom Penh. Also some studies by Ben Kiernan convinced Malcolm of the serious fraud committed by Ponchaud, Barron and Anthony [Paul] in their reporting on Kampuchea after April 1975.
Caldwell's dramatized concern for these "disturbing reports" resulted in his own attack on the media and his further determination to prove them wrong. On the very night he was killed, December 23, 1978, Caldwell was in Phnom Penh at the invitation of the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary regime. Having visited the country on a guided "tour" and interviewed Pol Pot, he became even more convinced that the allegations against the Khmer Rouge by refugees were false. Furthermore, the connection to Chomsky and Ponchaud's ballyhooed erratas is elaborated upon in chapter 3 regarding the Chomsky-Lacouture Controversy. Caldwell, like his STAV colleagues, Summers, Porter, and Hildebrand have in some fashion or another quoted one another (circulating references). Leaving original inquiry much to be desired, they seek the truth from the ivory towers of their Universities. The preface to the Janata Prachuranalu published book Kampuchea: Rationale for a Rural Policy, likewise admonishes the Western press:
Caldwell's paper nails the lie to another aspect of the propaganda, viz. that the Kampuchean revolutionaries were following a mad path of building a socialist society. He has not only shown this path is correct but that it is the best-suited, not only for Kampuchea, but also for most of the underdeveloped Third World countries in the age of imperialism.
To the contrary, the New York Times, Washington Post, and all three television networks in 1976 were reticent about human rights in Cambodia. As we will see in chapter 4, Accuracy in Media found that very few stories relative to those on South Korea and Chile appeared in this mass medium.
Yet the editors, in considering the prospects for Cambodia since the January 1979 invasion by Vietnam, contend that "Already within six months after its outbreak [the invasion] it has turned Kampuchea from a rich exporting country into a deadly place of hunger. It has rapidly annihilated the hard-won results of a unique development-model." What is remarkable here is the blame placed on everyone except the Khmer Rouge. For instance, we saw that America had caused starvation to beset Phnom Penh, thus causing the need for an evacuation. Hering and Utrecht forthrightly inform the readers of Malcolm Caldwell's Southeast Asia that Malcolm told Ernst Utrecht: "If it is true that Pol Pot has also killed Khmer Peasants, I have to make a different evaluation of Kampuchea's development-model. Killing an innocent peasant is a token of fascism." More transference--from calling the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary regime communist and "good" to fascist and "bad". Where will it end? No one knows.
In the first of three articles in Malcolm Caldwell's South-East Asia, written for the China Policy Study Group in London Caldwell chastises the media and the Barron-Paul book Murder of a Gentle Land (1977) for perpetuating lies about the Khmer Rouge and their intentions. Caldwell writes:
Faced with determined attempts on the part of both the Western and the Soviet media to portray it as a crazed pariah, Kampuchea has--without abandoning its policy of "first things first" (i.e., irrigation and rice)--succeeded in convincing many of its Asian neighbours and other Third World countries that the calumny is unwarranted. Two things are of note here: first, much of the Moscow/Hanoi propaganda is drawn from the notorious Reader's Digest book by Barron and Paul, Murder of a Gentle Land, Which has long since been refuted and discredited in the West (it was serialized in Hanoi radio); second the wilder allegations against Kampuchea current in the West never gained much popular credence or currency in neighbouring countries (in Thailand because it is common how refugee stories are selected and magnified). [Emphasis is Caldwell's.]
Caldwell's ad hominem attack on Barron's and Paul's book is of particular note, again, because Chomsky and Herman deploy their resources against it too. In addition, Ponchaud's Cambodia: Year Zero, was also assaulted by Caldwell and his STAV colleagues (Porter, Kiernan, Chomsky, and Herman) as a cesspool of hearsay and falsehoods. Because the Barron-Paul gained early popularity in the U.S., and was the more vulnerable of the two, Caldwell and friends worked tirelessly to undermine that one, particularly. Caldwell dismisses them based on their conclusion that "the revolutionary regime is atavistic, anachronistic, barbaric, rustic ascetic, anarchic, cruel, irrational, and intent upon commanding a forced march back to the Dark Ages."
In that essay, "Cambodia: Rationale for a Rural Policy" or Kampuchea: Rationale for a Rural Policy, Caldwell begins reasonably enough:
To most of the outside world, events in Cambodia (Democratic Kampuchea) since its liberation in 1975 appear totally outlandish and incomprehensible. Most commentators conclude that the charitable explanation for them list in bungled and inept improvisation by ignorant and ill-organised cadres floundering in disastrous circumstances and sustained only by opportune callousness and monopoly of firearms. This study argues that, on the contrary, the leaders of the Cambodian Revolution had evolved both short-term tactics and long-term socio-economic strategy, based upon a sound analysis of the realities of the country's society and economy, in the years before liberation; that in the face of great difficulties they have attempted with some successes to implement these in the last three years; and the chosen course is a sound one whether one judges it in terms of its domestic appositness or in terms of its reading of the future international economy.
This thesis forces him to reach back into the economic dissertations of Khieu Samphan and leads him as well to the unreserved use of Government of Democratic Kampuchea bulletins and official explanations--just as the sine qua non of the Khmer Rouge Canon, Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution by Porter and Hildebrand resorted to in 1976. For example, Caldwell quotes favorably from the translation of Pol Pot's "17th Anniversary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea" speech as well as Ieng Sary's assertion in front of the U.N. general assembly that "Our objective is to make our country a modern agricultural and industrial country." In addition, by quoting extensively from Khieu Samphan's thesis "Cambodia's Economy and Problems of Industrialization," Caldwell asserts that it is the backbone to the development-model being used by Democratic Kampuchea. Hence, further indication that the STAV was that the dissertation was a master plan. Like Laura Summers, Porter, and Hildebrand, Caldwell is quick to report the observations of the ambassador Kaj Bjork and other invited emissaries without reservation. In addition, he cites Porter's and Hildebrand's Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution over 15 times and has this to say of their book,
[It] compensates to some extent for the dereliction of the vast majority of Western scholars, "experts" and journalists reputed to have, or who themselves profess to have an interest in Cambodia (an interest, that is, aside from being paid to read about it and to comment on it). In what follows in this section I draw heavily upon Porter and Hildebrand. But I would like to stress that their book is indispensable and should be read by everyone.
"Birds of a feather," it is said, "flock together." Caldwell could not have found a more authoritative book to reference his own work. From his perch in England, he looked not Cambodians, but his colleagues for what made the Khmer Rouge tick.
The similarities do not end there, however. Caldwell did not excel at hiding his admiration for the Khmer Rouge leadership. Hence, like his STAV colleagues, he romanticized about the revolutionaries who were both peasants, but academics too. These were theoretician who were not afraid of a little hard work. He writes:
It should be emphasized that radicals like Khieu Samphan and the others were not "theoretical leftists". On the contrary, they always not only stressed the importance of cadres throwing themselves into manual labour alongside peasants, but set a personal example. They scorned material rewards and comforts, fully sharing the lives of the poor. Phnom Penh had no attractions for them, and since liberation they have continued to retain their working offices deep in the rural areas and to take turn at field work. They thus understood and understand peasant problems infinitely better than those western scholars who now appoint themselves to pass judgment on them from afar.
Caldwell's description of Khieu Samphan sound strikingly similar to Ben Kiernan's "ascetic" characterization as quoted by Stephen Morris.Moreover he makes an excellent point about the "western scholars" who "pass judgment from afar." The lesson remain unlearned.
Summers, Porter, Hildebrand were fond of the superior farming abilities of the new Cambodia. The double or triple rice-cropping methods of the Khmer Rouge were indeed incredible. It became, however, a source of objections when the fact that double rice-cropping, as pointed by David Chandler, was "an achievement unequaled since the days of [12th c.] Angkor." In awe of such a feat, Caldwell rationalizes the "close" supervision of city dwellers who were sure not to share these goals. He writes:
Urban dwellers re-settled from Phnom Penh in 1975 could not possibly have at once shared that outlook and it need occasion us no surprise that to begin with they required close supervision when put to work shifting earth and collecting boulders; we should bear this in mind when evaluating refugee stories, particularly those referring to the immediate post-liberation period.
Caldwell, like Summers, considers the hardships that city-dwellers faced, yet like her, his facade wears thin. From justification, Caldwell turns to apologia for Khmer Rouge. He is shameless in singing the praises of what Prince Sihanouk has compared to propaganda that outstripped Joseph Goebbels. Caldwell's romanticization of the Khmer revolution is apparent when he describes that,
The forethought, ingenuity, dedication and eventual triumph of the liberation forces in the face of extreme adversity and almost universal foreign scepticism, detachment, hostility and even outright sabotage ought to have been cause for worldwide relief and congratulation rather than the disbelief and execration with which it was in fact greeted. . . But if manipulators have a very good reason to distort and obscure the truth we do not. Indeed we have a clear obligation to establish and propagate it with every resource at out command.
With "forethought," "ingenuity," and "dedication" too, Caldwell triumphs over his colleagues as the "leading academic supporter of the Khmer Rouge." He is mistaken when he asserts that there was universal foreign skepticism of the winning side, since most of the negative reporting was fragmentary even in 1977. The real media campaign began, according to Shawcross after the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam in 1979, at the time ex-STAV scholars like Ben Kiernan switched to the Vietnamese side. Caldwell's assertion that "manipulators" are behind the propaganda campaign against the Khmer revolution is not original. Summers explored that idea approvingly, while Chomsky and Herman will develop it to absurdity in their theory of the Free Press covered in the next chapter.
In the second-half of his paper-turned-book, Caldwell places the Khmer revolution in the context of international and historical perspective. Being somewhat more enthusiastic than his colleagues or perhaps more openly so, Caldwell proposes a counterfactual cloaked in a reprimand,
Those who orchestrate the chorus of vilification and scurrility against Democratic Kampuchea do not accept that have responsibility to let us know what they think the country might have looked like today  had the Revolution been crushed; what they would do even today were they to be by some miracle vested with absolute power in Phnom Penh; and what the prospects of the country would be were either of these conditions fulfilled in contrast to the prospects that clearly open out to it now under its present revolutionary government.
His tour de force reaches its nadir with this baseless comparison. The opposite is what one often wonders, when looking back at the years 1975-1979 for Cambodia. Upon reflection, in what must appear to be an entirely unfounded argument, Caldwell asserts that Cambodia is better off with the Khmer revolution. Sheer fantasy? Not to the STAV. Porter and Hildebrand went so far as to justify the evacuation because it had, in their opinion, saved lives. Chomsky and Herman allude to that and more when they compare postwar Cambodia to the horrid American devastation of the country during the war, as the reader will discover in the next chapter.
The conclusions, which Caldwell draws are so distanced from reality as to make them unrecognizable. He predicts that the revolution in Kampuchea marks the beginning of "the greatest and necessary change beginning to convulse the world in the later 20th century and to shift it from a disaster-bound course to one holding out promise of a better future for all." With this in mind, however, he does feels that the alternative to the Kampuchean solution, inverting the World-System, "would not be a good option, in either sense (moral or rational): even the richest countries of the world today are still disfigured by poverty and gross inequalities." For that assertion to be made, the "poverty and gross inequalities" in the First World would have to be equal to greater than those in the new Kampuchea. To it, one might wonder whom Ponchaud had mind when he pointedly asked, "How many of those unreservedly in support of the Khmer revolution would consent to endure one-hundredth part of the current suffering of the Cambodian people?" Whether they would consent is dubious, but we know form this chapter who four of them are: Malcolm Caldwell, Laura Summers, Gareth Porter, and George C. Hildebrand. Speaking for the peasants of the world, Lecturer Malcolm Caldwell of the University of London writes that there can be no doubt, "that the lesson [of the Khmer revolution] will not long be lost upon the as yet unliberated peasants."
We know that the Cambodianists who wrote in support of the Khmer Rouge used similar arguments. That much was self-evident of Laura Summers, Gareth Porter, and George C. Hildebrand. Malcolm Caldwell, whose impact was equally impressive while in England with Summers, but nowhere near Cambodia, upheld the STAV on Cambodia. As exemplary STAV scholars, they have earned their place in the "Khmer Rouge Canon 1975-1979." These defenders of the Khmer revolution were influenced to some degree or another by the charisma or intellect of some of the Khmer Rouge leadership, namely, Khieu Samphan and Hou Youn, as evidenced in Caldwell's note that Khieu Samphan was truly a man who practiced what he preached. They romanticized the Khmer revolution and its revolutionaries by rationalizing the policies of the Khmer Rouge and believing that all contrary evidence was the work of manipulators and counter-revolutionary agitators. Furthermore, they convinced themselves of the Khmer Rouge mission to liberate peasants from the domineering urban parasites. But at what costs, one wonders, to the peasants themselves? Fully half if not more of the casualties of revolution were rural Khmer. They were fascinated by the idea that according to the Constitution, "exploiter and exploited" would no longer exist, and that "justice and harmony" for all would prevail in happy Kampuchea.
After the Vietnam War, these scholars were inclined to disbelieve refugees who had a vested interest in vilifying Democratic Kampuchea and its rulers, the Khmer Rouge, since they were running away from something or another to begin with. As this logic was picked-up by Chomsky and Herman, it became the central argument against the mounting refugee reports of atrocities as will be seen in the next chapter.
Another major point reiterated in the works of all four authors is that America must be held accountable for most of the postwar problems, since, they argue, it had created the deplorable pre-liberation conditions. But this was a two pronged argument, not only was America to blame for the annihilation of a country, but it was the Khmer Rouge who were the protagonists, heroic in their effort to stave off starvation by evacuating the cities. It is expounded upon repeatedly by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in the Chomsky-Lacouture Controversy, a controversy tackled in chapter 3. Summers, Caldwell, Porter and Hildebrand saw themselves through the prism of a struggle against neo-colonialism.
Their complete trust in the righteousness of Khmer Rouge actions was shown at its extreme when Porter and Hildebrand argued that the evacuation of even hospitals was an act of mercy. The consistent threads encountered in the works reviewed is the result of complete and utter naiveté in quoting the claims the Khmer Rouge. Sihanouk knew as much even while a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge. No hesitation nor reservation to quote Ieng Sary or Khieu Samphan's explanations was expressed by any of the four STAV scholars reviewed. It seems clear, therefore, that the mistakes which led each author to reach his/her respective conclusion was in fact academic. To be sure, there were judgments colored by ideology, but even a Marxist who possessed some objective fibers could see that speaking to common people might help. Peer review is a cornerstone of academia, but when the standard total academic view is to sing the praises of the Khmer revolution, what next? The STAV's methods led them to generate conclusions that were simply implausible when stacked on top of one another. Had they thought more critically, perhaps, they would not be canonized.
Questions that are obviously crucial even apart from the legacy of the war--for example, the sources of the policies of the postwar Cambodian regime in historical experience, traditional culture, Khmer nationalism, or internal social conflict--have been passed by in silence as the propaganda machine gravitates to the evils of a competitive socioeconomic system so as to establish its basic principle: that "liberation" by "Marxists" is the worst fate that can befall any people under Western dominance.
--Chomsky and Herman, 1979
So argued the celebrated political activist Noam Chomsky and his sidekick Edward S. Herman in After the Cataclysm, one of the most supportive books of the Khmer revolution (especially since it was written after the end of the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary regime), yet least rejected among the works canonized, to originate from the standard total academic view on Cambodia. Chomsky had been involved with the antiwar movement since the early days of Vietnam, and had made a name for himself as an outspoken critic of the war. Born in 1928, he is the world-famous MIT linguist who advanced the grammatical system known as transformational, or generative, grammar. By the late 1960s, however, he became engrossed in the debate over U.S. intervention in Vietnam, becoming one of its most formidable and ingenious critics. With the end of the War, however, few imperialist causes remained to rebel against, and he was left with no real enemy to fight. Chomsky's long record on Indochina started with his book entitled American Power and the New Mandarins (1969). It was followed up with At War with Asia in 1970, he was also affiliated with the progressive Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, another hotbed for the STAV. Not long after 1976, when Ben Kiernan, Chanthou Boua, and their collective published News from Kampuchea, an Australian newsletter devoted to bringing news to refute the "imperialist media," Chomsky re-emerged as force to be reckoned with in the debate over Cambodia.
Gunn and Lee speculate that News from Kampuchea was published as a catalyst to the Barron-Paul book Murder of a Gentle Land (1977) which was the first English-language book to lambaste the Khmer revolution for its brutal excesses. A long excerpt was first published as a Reader's Digest article in February 1977. François Ponchaud's book, Cambodia: Year Zero, followed on the heels of that article by Barron and Paul, and was more authoritative since Ponchaud had lived in Cambodia from 1965 to 1975, and could speak Khmer. Unfortunately, Cambodia: Year Zero was Cambodge: Annee Zero (1977) until 1978, when it was translated from the French. What Gunn and Lee call the "endeavor to deconstruct distortions and bias in western press coverage of Democratic Kampuchea" became News from Kampuchea's prime directive. That endeavor was joined by Chomsky and Herman when they began a public campaign against the media in their Nation article titled "Distortions at Fourth Hand." Chomsky, who has a tendency to write letters to the editor, criticized the Christian Science Monitor's editorial of April 26, 1977 entitled "Cambodia in the year zero." He was later condemned by the Wall Street Journal for his "heroic efforts to disprove the bloodbaths in Cambodia," but well regarded by some of the scholars reviewed in the previous chapter.
Together with Herman, Chomsky devised an attack strategy on the media that would allow him to criticize Ponchaud, Barron-Paul, and the media for specific erratas, but without the appearance of searching for facts on Cambodia. His favorable position towards the Khmer revolution would be hidden by the cloak of criticizing the print media's biases. Of the individuals who were sympathetic to the Khmer Rouge, Chomsky and Herman merit closer scrutiny because of the sophistication of their argument. The Khmer Rouge Canon is about the STAV and Cambodia, not the STAV on the media. That is how Chomsky's supporters like to retell his involvement. Their attack on the media was far too thin a facade to protect Chomsky and Herman from being canonized. It is for that purpose that this chapter is devoted to the Chomsky-Lacouture Controversy. First it attempts to reconstruct the Controversy in chronological order, second it deconstructs the Chomsky-Herman thesis and shows how it parallels the Porter-Hildebrand-STAV thesis on Cambodia. The Chomsky-Lacouture Controversy became the last stand for the critics of the Khmer Rouge critics. But, one might wonder, what does Jean Lacouture have to do with this, and who is he? Lacouture was instrumental in inciting Chomsky and Herman into a polemical exchange. Because of Lacouture's extremely favorable review of the Ponchaud book in the New York Review of Books entitled "The Bloodiest Revolution," combined with his opposition to the Vietnam War, Lacouture was like traitor to Chomsky and friends.
To counter Lacouture, Ponchaud, Barron, and Paul, Chomsky and Herman used evidence from Summers, Caldwell, Kiernan, Porter, and Hildebrand. In addition, Chomsky and Herman placed a rather ingenious spin on the U.S. State Department's findings, making them appear to agree with their own sense that the magnitude of the tragedy in Cambodia, though significant, was nowhere near those reported by the media or Lacouture or Ponchaud or Barron and Paul. The Chomsky-Herman objections were numerous, but they centered on the media's unabated use of discredited sources. Three layers of objections were apparent from the Chomsky-Herman standpoint: (1) Ponchaud's book had four erratas, which were further exacerbated in Lacouture's review, (2) Barron and Paul's book was itself attacked then dismissed, even more harshly, than was Ponchaud's book, (3) the print media, which used the two books and/or Lacouture's review, was accused of having suppressed evidence favorable to the Khmer Rouge, and propagated untruths (such as fake photos and in particular a fake interview with Khieu Samphan). Chomsky and Herman made full use of these layers, as they painted a sinister picture of conspiracy and propaganda against the Khmer revolution by the Western media.
The Chomskian Context
Chomsky is no stranger to radical politics. He has written countless books and articles attacking U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. media. His background in linguistics makes him a formidable debater, and even his enemies call him a genius. Chomsky shies away from excessive demagoguery, but not from polemical exchanges. What separates him from the amateur activists cum academics in chapter 2 is his luster as a professional sophist or armchair academicien de grandeur. His extensive experience has taught him to anticipate potential quagmires and to make certain that token allowances are peppered throughout his works. He uses these vague concessions to make himself appear more or less "objective," always high-minded and (partially) right in retrospect, when he later quotes himself selectively. Unfortunately for Chomsky, he does far too little of that to appear remotely objective. Chomsky wrote the preface to Malcolm Caldwell and Lek Hor Tan's Cambodia in the Southeast Asian War (1973) published by the Monthly Review Press (which would also publish Hildebrand and Porter's Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution among other Marxist works). Chomsky's vision of Cambodia's future, to which he credits U.S. foreign policy, bears no resemblance to reality. He writes:
The misery and destruction for which Nixon and Kissinger bear direct responsibility are crimes that can never be forgotten. By the impulse it has to the revolutionary forces, this vicious attack may have also prepared the ground, as some observers believe, not only for national liberation but also for a new era of economic development and social justice.
A revisionist favorable to Chomsky might interpret a "new era of economic development and social justice" in a negative sense, but Chomsky would be the victim of historical revisionism. Others may argue that the years after "liberation" were productive, as did the canonized authors covered in chapter 2, but that would be historical revisionism on Cambodia. What is self-evident, however, is Chomsky's research techniques and predictive sensibilities. He uses far too little empirical evidence to create theories, which in turn do not predict very well.
In his book, At War with Asia (1970), Chomsky exudes the same peasant romanticism which younger, less experienced members of the STAV displayed shamelessly, when referring to Khieu Samphan. Chomsky was no idealistic graduate student, though he was a world-renowned scholar, when he wrote the following words:
Perhaps someday they [Nixon and Kissinger] will acknowledge their "honest errors" in their memoirs, speaking of the burdens of world leadership and the tragic irony of history. Their victims, the peasants of Indochina, will write no memoirs and will be forgotten. They will join the countless millions of earlier victims of tyrants and oppressors.
To the contrary, if Nixon blamed himself for anything, it was for having left Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge partly because of Watergate. Whether the peasants of Indochina blame Nixon and Kissinger more than they do their revolutionary leaders is something Chomsky may never want to ask. He is not an empiricist, nor does he pretend to be. The true "tragic irony of history" would not end here however, Chomsky's exploitation of Indochinese peasants would continue throughout the 1970s.
By 1977, Chomsky was itching for a new target, since he did not have Nixon and Kissinger to kick around anymore. With his long-time collaborator Edward Herman, Chomsky found the Western media and its alleged differential treatment of atrocities in Cambodia versus East Timor, a convenient Trojan horse for a new wave of attacks on "imperialism" at the expense, of course, of the peasants he loved. Chomsky's onslaught was unrelenting, he began with a broadside on May 2, 1977 to the Christian Science Monitor for its editorial "Cambodia in the year zero" (CSM, 04/26/77) based on Jean Lacouture's "The Bloodiest Revolution" (NYRB, 03/31/77). He followed with personal correspondence to Lacouture and Bob Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, which published the translated Lacouture review. This correspondence resulted in a clarification by Lacouture in "Cambodia: Corrections" (NYRB, 05/26/77). Still unsatisfied with these results, Chomsky and Herman published a book review in the Nation on June 25, 1977, entitled "Distortions at Fourth Hand" in which they dismissed the Barron-Paul book as "third rate propaganda" and called the Ponchaud book "serious and worth reading" but full of erratas and unreliable, especially since it was based on interviews with refugees. Chomsky and Herman pioneered, with Ben Kiernan, a new way to look at refugees: suspiciously. The Nation article was then followed by correspondence to and from Ponchaud, until the republication of the Nation article in the antiwar newsletter Indochina Chronicle published by the notorious IRC, 1977. In 1978, Ponchaud's book appeared in the U.S., finally translated, followed by Lacouture's Survive le peuple cambodgien! (Cambodians Survive!) in France that same year. The following year, Chomsky and Herman, irritated by this outcome, published After the Cataclysm (1979) which covered "Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology." That book deserves a special place in the Khmer Rouge Canon, not just for recycling the Porter and Hildebrand line, which it does--but for its originality, inventiveness and ingenuity. These are qualities which have allowed Chomsky and Herman to maintain to this day that they were right all along.
Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences