Friday, April 23, 2010

Chomsky opinion article TRUTHOUT

Noam Chomsky: Remembering Fascism

Wednesday, 21 April 2010, 12:04 pm

Opinion: Noam Chomsky

Remembering Fascism: Learning From the Past

by Noam Chomsky,

t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Madison: Radical, Intellectual Retrospective, April 8,

I don't have to say how pleased and grateful I am for
this honor, which also offers an occasion to look back
over the years. What comes to mind with particular
salience is the earliest years, perhaps because I've been
thinking a lot about them lately, for other reasons. They
were, of course, formative years for me personally, but I
think the significance unfortunately goes beyond.

I'm just old enough to have memories of Hitler's speeches
on the radio 75 years ago. I didn't understand the words,
but couldn't fail to grasp the menace of the tone and the
cheering mobs. The first political article I wrote was in
February 1939, right after the fall of Barcelona. I'm
sure it was nothing memorable. I can recall a little of
it, but much more clearly the mood of fear and
foreboding. The article opened with the words: "Austria
falls, Czechoslovakia falls, and now Barcelona falls" -
and Spain with it, a few months later. The words have
always stayed in my mind, along with the dread, the sense
of the dark clouds of fascism gathering over Germany and
then Europe and perhaps beyond, a growing force of
unimaginable horror. Though no one could foresee the
Holocaust, Kristallnacht had taken place just a few weeks
before and the desperate flight of refugees had been
building up for years, many of them unable to believe
what was happening.

In those years I also had my first experience with
radical intellectuals - though they wouldn't be called
"intellectuals" as the term is standardly used, applying
to people with status and privilege who are in a position
to reach the public with thoughts about human affairs and
concerns. And since privilege confers responsibility, the
question always arises as to how they are using that
responsibility, topics very much alive in those years in
work by Erich Fromm, Russell and Dewey, Orwell, Dwight
MacDonald, and others, which I soon came to know. But the
radical intellectuals of my childhood were different.
They were my working-class relatives in New York, mostly
unemployed during the Depression, though one uncle, with
a disability, had a newsstand thanks to New Deal measures
and so was able to help support much of the family. My
parents could, too, in a small way. As Hebrew teachers in
Philadelphia, they had that rare gift of employment, so
we had a stream of aunts and cousins staying with us

My New York relatives mostly had limited formal
education. My uncle, who ran the newsstand and was an
enormous influence on my early life, had never gone
beyond fourth grade. But it was one of the most lively
intellectual circles I have ever been part of, at least
on the periphery as a child. There were constant
discussions about the latest performance of the Budapest
String Quartet, the controversies between Stekel and
Freud, radical politics and activism, which was then
reaching impressive peaks. Particularly significant were
the sit-down strikes, just a step short of workers taking
over factories and radically changing the society - ideas
that should be very much alive today.

Along with being a major factor in New Deal measures, the
rising labor activism aroused great concern in the
business world. Its leading figures warned about "the
hazard facing industrialists [with] the rising political
power of the masses," and the need to intensify "the
everlasting battle for the minds of men," and instituted
programs to overcome this threat to order and discipline,
put aside during the war, but taken up afterward with
extreme dedication and scale. The US is unusual among
industrial societies in its highly class-conscious
business community, relentlessly fighting a bitter class
war, in earlier years with unusual levels of violence,
more recently through massive propaganda offensives.

Some of my relatives were close to the Communist Party,
others were bitterly anti-Communist from the left; and
some, like my uncle, were anti-Bolshevik, from farther
left. Among those close to the party, while there was
ritual obeisance to Russia, I had the feeling that for
most the focus was right here: the civil rights and labor
movements, welfare reform and badly needed social change.
The party was a force that did not anticipate quick
victories, but was always present, ready, persistent,
dedicated to moving from temporary defeat to the next
struggle, something that we really lack today. It was
also connected with a broader movement of workers'
education and associations and, not least, an opportunity
for my unemployed seamstress aunts to spend a week in the
country at an ILGWU resort and other escapes from what
should have been a very grim world, though I remember it
from my own personal experiences - limited of course - as
a time that was full of hope, quite unlike today under
circumstances that are objectively much less severe.

By 1941, I was spending as much time as I could in
downtown Manhattan, gravitating to another group of
radical intellectuals in the small bookstores on 4th
Avenue run by anarchist refugees from the Spanish
revolution of 1936, or the office of the Anarchist Freie
Arbeiter Stimme in Union Square nearby. They, too, didn't
fit the standard formula for intellectuals. But if by the
term we mean people who think seriously about life and
society, their problems and possible solutions, against a
background of knowledge and understanding, then they were
indeed intellectuals, impressive ones. They were quite
happy to spend time with a young kid who was fascinated
with the 1936 anarchist revolution, which I thought then,
and still think, was one of the high points of Western
civilization and in some ways a beacon for a better
future. I picked up a lot of material that I used 30
years later when writing about the topic, most of it not
then in print.

Among the most memorable of these materials is a
collection of primary documents about collectivization,
published in 1937 by the CNT, the anarcho-syndicalist
union that is celebrating its centenary this year. One
contribution has resonated in my mind ever since, by
peasants of the village of Membrilla. I would like to
quote parts of it:

In [the] miserable huts [of Membrilla] live the poor
inhabitants of a poor province; eight thousand people,
but the streets are not paved, the town has no newspaper,
no cinema, neither a café nor a library.... Food,
clothing and tools were distributed equitably to the
whole population. Money was abolished, work
collectivized, all goods passed to the community,
consumption was socialized. It was, however, not a
socialization of wealth but of poverty.... The whole
population lived as in a large family; functionaries,
delegates, the secretary of the syndicates, the members
of the municipal council, all elected, acted as heads of
a family. But they were controlled, because special
privilege or corruption would not be tolerated. Membrilla
is perhaps the poorest village of Spain, but it is the
most just.

These words, by some of the most impoverished peasants in
the country, capture with rare eloquence the achievements
and promise of the anarchist revolution. The achievements
did not, of course, spring up from nothing. They were the
outcome of many decades of struggle, experiment, brutal
repression - and learning. The concept of how a just
society should be organized was in the minds of the
population when the opportunity arose. The experiment in
creating a world of freedom and justice was crushed all
too soon by the combined forces of fascism, Stalinism and
liberal democracy. Global power centers understood very
well that they must unite to destroy this dangerous
threat to subordination and discipline before turning to
the secondary task of dividing up the spoils.

In later years, I have sometimes been able to see
first-hand at least a little of the lives of poor people
suffering brutal repression and violence - in the
miserable slums of Haiti at the peak of the terror in the
early '90s, supported by Washington though the facts are
still suppressed and highly relevant to today's
tragedies. Or in refugee camps in Laos, where tens of
thousands of people were huddled, driven from their homes
by a CIA mercenary army after years of trying to survive
in caves under relentless bombing that had nothing to do
with the war in Vietnam, one of the gravest atrocities of
modern history, still largely unknown and still killing
many people because the land is saturated with unexploded
ordnance. Or in Palestine and southeastern Turkey and
many other places. Among them, particularly important to
me for personal reasons, is southern Colombia, where
campesinos, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians are
being driven from their devastated lands by terror and
chemical warfare, called here "fumigation," as if we
somehow have the right to destroy other countries on
pretexts that we manufacture - people capable of the most
miraculous sympathy and humanity, despite the awful
suffering in which we play a major role, while looking
the other way - though not in Madison, thanks to the work
of the Colombia support group here.

One of the things I learned in the anarchist bookstores
and offices 70 years ago was that I had been wrong in
taking the fall of Barcelona in 1939 to be the death
knell for freedom in Spain. It rang two years earlier, in
May 1937, when the industrial working class was crushed
by the Communist-led repression and Communist armies
swept through the countryside destroying the collectives,
with the assistance of the liberal democracies and with
Hitler and Mussolini waiting in the wings - an immense
tragedy for Spain, even though not quite the victory that
the predators had anticipated.

A few years later, I left home for graduate studies at
Harvard, where I had my first extensive experience with
the elite intellectual world. On arrival, I went to the
standard faculty-run party for incoming students and was
regaled by a very distinguished philosopher with an
account of the Depression - which, he assured me, had not
taken place. It was a liberal fabrication. There were no
rag-pickers coming to our door in desperation in the
early '30s, no women workers being beaten by security
forces while on strike at a textile factory that I passed
on a trolley with my mother when I was about five, none
of my unemployed working class relatives. A few
businessmen might have suffered, but there was nothing
beyond that.

I was soon to learn that this was far from an exception,
but I don't want to suggest that this was typical of
Harvard intellectuals. Most were Stevenson liberals,
people who applauded when Stevenson said at the UN that
we have to defend Vietnam from "internal aggression,"
from the "assault from within," as President Kennedy put
it. Words that we hear again today, for example, last
Sunday, in The New York Times, where we read that after
the conquest of Marja in Helmand Province, the Marines
have collided with a Taliban identity so dominant that
the movement appears more akin to the only political
organization in a one-party town, with an influence that
touches everyone. "We've got to re-evaluate our
definition of the word 'enemy,'" said Brig. Gen. Larry
Nicholson, commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade
in Helmand Province. "Most people here identify
themselves as Taliban ... We have to readjust our
thinking so we're not trying to chase the Taliban out of
Marja, we're trying to chase the enemy out," he said.

A problem that has always bedeviled conquerors, very
familiar to the US from Vietnam, where the leading US
government scholar in a widely praised book lamented that
the enemy within was the only "truly mass-based political
party in South Vietnam" and any effort of ours to compete
with it politically would be like a conflict between a
minnow and a whale, so we had to overcome their political
force by using our comparative advantage, violence - as
we did. Others have faced similar problems: for example,
the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s, an invasion
that also elicited the outrage that we muster up for the
crimes of enemies. Middle East specialist William Polk
reminds us that the Russians "won many military victories
and through their civic action programs they actually won
over many of the villages" - and in fact, as we know from
reliable sources, created substantial freedom in Kabul,
particularly for women. But, to go on with Polk, "over
the decade of their involvement, the Russians won almost
every battle and occupied at one time or another
virtually every inch of the country, but they lost ...
the war. When they gave up and left, the Afghans resumed
their traditional way of life."

The dilemmas faced by Obama and McChrystal are not quite
the same. The enemy whom the Marines are trying to chase
out of their villages have virtually no outside support.
The Russian invaders, in sharp contrast, were facing a
resistance that received vital support from the US, Saudi
Arabia and Pakistan, who were rounding up the most
extreme radical Islamic fundamentalists they could find -
including those terrorizing women in Kabul - and were
arming them with advanced weapons, while also carrying
forward the program of radical Islamization of Pakistan,
yet another one of Reagan's gifts to the world, along
with Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The goal of these US
operations was not to defend Afghanistan. It was
explained frankly by the CIA station chief in Islamabad,
who was running the operations. The goal was to "kill
Soviet Soldiers." He boasted that he "loved" this "noble
goal," making it very clear, in his words, that "the
mission was not to liberate Afghanistan," which he didn't
care about. You're familiar I'm sure with Zbigniew
Brzezinski's somewhat similar boasts.

By the early 1960s, I was deeply engaged in antiwar
activities. I won't go into the details, though they tell
us a lot about the intellectual climate, particularly in
liberal Boston. By 1966, my own involvement was deep
enough so that my wife went back to college to get a
degree after 17 years because of the likelihood of a long
prison sentence - which came very close. The trial was
already announced, but canceled after the Tet offensive,
which convinced the business community that the war was
becoming too costly and, in any event, the major war aims
had been achieved - another long story I won't go into.
After the Tet offensive and the shift in official policy,
it suddenly turned out that everyone had been a long-term
opponent of the war - in deep silence. Kennedy memoirists
rewrote their accounts to present their hero as a dove -
untroubled by the radical revisions or by the extensive
documentary evidence showing that JFK would consider
withdrawal from a war he knew to be domestically
unpopular only after victory was assured.

Even before the Tet offensive there were growing doubts
in these circles, not about the sentimental notions of
right and wrong that we reserve for the crimes of
enemies, but about the likelihood of success in beating
back the "assault from within." Perhaps, a paradigm was
Arthur Schlesinger's reflections when he was beginning to
be concerned that victory might not be so easily at hand.
As he put it, "we all pray" that the hawks will be right
and that the surge of the day will bring victory. And if
it does, we will be praising the "wisdom and
statesmanship" of the US government in gaining military
victory while leaving "the tragic country gutted and
devastated by bombs, burned by napalm, turned into a
wasteland by chemical defoliation, a land of ruin and
wreck," with its "political and institutional fabric"
pulverized. But escalation probably won't succeed and
will prove to be too costly for ourselves, so perhaps
strategy should be rethought.

Little has changed today when Obama is hailed as a
leading opponent of the Iraq invasion because it was a
"strategic blunder," words that one could also have read
in Pravda by the mid-1980s. The imperial mentality is
very deeply rooted.

It is sad to say, but not false, that within the dominant
spectrum the liberal imperialists are "the good guys." A
likely alternative is revealed by the most recent polls.
Almost half of voters say that the average Tea Party
member is closer to their views than President Obama,
whom fewer prefer. There's an interesting breakdown.
Eighty-seven percent of those in the so-called "Political
Class" say their views are closer to Obama's. Sixty-three
percent of what are called "Mainstream Americans" say
their views are closer to the Tea Party. On virtually all
issues, Republicans are trusted by the electorate more
than Democrats, in many cases by double digits. Other
evidence suggests that these polls are recording distrust
rather than trust. The level of anger and fear in the
country is like nothing I can recall in my lifetime. And
since the Democrats are in power, the revulsion over the
current social-economic-political world attaches to them.

Unfortunately, these attitudes are understandable. For
over 30 years, real incomes for the majority of the
population have stagnated or declined, social indicators
have steadily deteriorated since the mid-1970s after
closely tracking growth in earlier years, work hours and
insecurity have increased along with debt. Wealth has
accumulated, but into very few pockets, leading to
probably record inequality. These are, in large part,
consequences of the financialization of the economy since
the 1970s and the corresponding hollowing out of domestic
production. What people see before their eyes is that the
bankers who are primarily responsible for the current
crisis and who were saved from bankruptcy by the public
are now reveling in record profits and huge bonuses,
while official unemployment stays at about 10 percent and
in manufacturing is at depression levels, one in six,
with good jobs unlikely to return. People rightly want
answers and they are not getting them, except from voices
that tell tales that have some internal coherence, but
only if you suspend disbelief and enter into their world
of irrationality and deceit. Ridiculing Tea Party
shenanigans is a serious error, I think. It would be far
more appropriate to understand what lies behind them and
to ask ourselves why justly angry people are being
mobilized by the extreme right and not by forces like
those that did so in my childhood, in the days of
formation of the CIO and other constructive activism.

To take just one illustration of the operation of really
existing market democracy, Obama's primary constituency
was financial institutions, which have gained such
dominance in the economy that their share of corporate
profits rose from a few percent in the '70s to almost
on-third today. They preferred Obama to McCain and
largely bought the election for him. They expected to be
rewarded and were. But a few months ago, responding to
rising public anger, Obama began to criticize the "greedy
bankers" who had been rescued by the public and even
proposed some measures to constrain them. Punishment for
his deviation was swift. The major banks announced
prominently that they would shift funding to Republicans
if Obama persisted with his offensive rhetoric.

Obama heard the message. Within days, he informed the
business press that bankers are fine "guys." He singled
out for special praise the chairs of two leading
beneficiaries of public largess, JP Morgan Chase and
Goldman Sachs and assured the business world that, "I,
like most of the American people, don't begrudge people
success or wealth" - such as the bonuses and profits that
are infuriating the public. "That's part of the free
market system," Obama continued, not inaccurately, as the
concept "free market" is interpreted in state capitalist

This should not be a great surprise. That incorrigible
radical Adam Smith, speaking of England, observed that
the principal architects of power were the owners of the
society, in his day the merchants and manufacturers, and
they made sure that policy would attend scrupulously to
their interests, however "grievous" the impact on the
people of England, and, worse, the victims of "the savage
injustice of the Europeans" abroad. British crimes in
India were a primary concern of an old-fashioned
conservative with moral values, a category that a
Diogenes might search for today.

A modern and more sophisticated version of Smith's maxim
is political economist Thomas Ferguson's "investment
theory of politics," which takes elections to be
occasions when groups of investors coalesce to invest to
control the state by selecting the architects of policies
who will serve their interests. It turns out to be a very
good predictor of policy over long periods. That should
hardly be surprising. Concentrations of economic power
will naturally seek to extend their sway over any
political process. It happens to be extreme in the US, as
I mentioned.

There is much fevered discussion these days about
whether, or when, the US is going to lose its dominant
position in global affairs to China and India, the rising
world powers. There is an element of truth to these
laments. But apart from misconceptions about debt,
deficits and the actual state of China and India, the
discussions are based on a serious misconception of the
nature of power and its exercise. In scholarship and
public discourse, it is common to take the actors in
international affairs to be states that pursue some
mysterious goal called "the national interest," divorced
from the internal distribution of power. Adam Smith had a
sharper eye and his radical truism provides a useful
corrective. Bearing it in mind, we can see that there is
indeed a global shift of power, though not the one that
occupies center stage: a further shift from the global
work force to transnational capital, sharply escalating
during the neoliberal years. The cost is substantial,
including working people in the US, starving peasants in
India and millions of protesting workers in China, where
labor share in national income is declining even more
rapidly than in most of the world.

Political economist Martin Hart-Landsberg observes that
China does play a leading role in the real global shift
of power, having become largely an assembly plant for a
regional production system. Japan, Taiwan, and other
advanced Asian economies export parts and components to
China and provide most of the sophisticated technology.
Chinese labor assembles it and exports it. To illustrate,
a Sloan Foundation study estimated that for a $150 iPod
exported from China, about 3 percent of value added is by
China, but it is counted as a Chinese export. Much
concern has been aroused by the growing US trade deficit
with China, but less noticed is the fact that the trade
deficit with Japan and rest of Asia has sharply declined
as the new regional production system takes shape. A Wall
Street Journal report concluded that if value added were
properly calculated, the real US-China trade deficit
would decline by as much as 30 percent, while the US
trade deficit with Japan would rise by 25 percent. US
manufacturers are following the same course, providing
parts and components for China to assemble and export,
mostly back to the US. For the financial institutions,
retail giants, ownership and management of manufacturing
industries and sectors closely related to this nexus of
power, all of this is heavenly. Not for American workers,
but as Smith pointed out, their fate is not the concern
of the "principal architects of policy."

It's true that there is nothing fundamentally new in the
process of deindustrialization. Owners and managers
naturally seek the lowest labor costs; efforts to do
otherwise, famously by Henry Ford, were struck down by
the courts, so now it is a legal obligation. One means is
shifting production. In earlier days, the shift was
mostly internal, especially to the southern states, where
labor could be more harshly repressed. Major
corporations, like the US steel corporation of the
sainted philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, could also profit
from the new slave-labor force created by the
criminalization of black life after the end of
Reconstruction in 1877, a core component of the American
industrial revolution, continuing until World War II. It
is being reproduced in part during the recent neoliberal
period, with the drug war used as a pretext to drive the
superfluous population, mostly black, back to the
prisons, also providing a new supply of prison labor in
state or private prisons, much of it in violation of
international labor conventions. For many
African-Americans, since they were exported to the
colonies, life has scarcely escaped the bonds of slavery,
or sometimes worse. More recently the shift is mostly

Returning to the charges against "greedy bankers," in
fairness, we should concede that they have a valid
defense. Their task is to maximize profit and market
share; in fact, that's their legal obligation. If they
don't do it, they'll be replaced by someone who will.
These are institutional facts, as are the inherent market
inefficiencies that require them to ignore systemic risk:
the likelihood that transactions they enter into will
harm the economy generally. They know full well that
these policies are likely to tank the economy, but these
externalities, as they are called, are not their
business, and cannot be, not because they are bad people,
but for institutional reasons. It is also unfair to
accuse them of "irrational exuberance," to borrow Alan
Greenspan's brief recognition of reality during the
artificial tech boom of the late '90s. Their exuberance
and risk taking was quite rational, in the knowledge that
when it all collapses, they can flee to the shelter of
the nanny state, clutching their copies of Hayek,
Friedman and Rand. The government insurance policy is one
of many perverse incentives that magnify the inherent
market inefficiencies.

In brief, ignoring systemic risk is an inherent
institutional property and perverse incentives are an
application of Smith's maxim. Again, no great insight.

After the latest disaster occurred, it has been agreed by
leading economists that an "emerging consensus" has
developed "on the need for macroprudential supervision"
of financial markets, that is, "paying attention to the
stability of the financial system as a whole and not just
its individual parts" (Barry Eichengreen, one of the most
respected analysts and historians of the financial
system). Two prominent international economists add that,
"There is growing recognition that our financial system
is running a doomsday cycle. Whenever it fails, we rely
on lax money and fiscal policies to bail it out. This
response teaches the financial sector: take large gambles
to get paid handsomely and don't worry about the costs -
they will be paid by taxpayers through bailouts and other
devices and the financial system "is thus resurrected to
gamble again - and to fail again." The system is a "doom
loop," in the words of the official of the Bank of
England responsible for financial stability.

Basically the same logic applies elsewhere. A year ago,
the business world recognized that the insurance
companies and big Pharma, in sharp defiance of the public
will, had succeeded in destroying the possibility of
serious health reform - a very serious matter, not only
for the people who suffer from the dysfunctional health
system, but even on narrow economic grounds. About half
of the deficit that we are instructed to deplore is
attributable to unprecedented military expenditures,
rising under Obama, and most of the rest to the
increasing costs of the virtually unregulated privatized
health care system, unique in the industrial world, also
unique in its gifts to drug companies - opposed by a mere
85 percent of the population. Last August, Business Week
had a cover story celebrating the victory of the health
insurance industries. Of course, no victory is enough, so
they persisted in the struggle, gaining more, also
against the will of the large majority of the public,
another interesting story I'll have to put aside.

Observing this victory, the American Petroleum Institute,
backed by the Chamber of Commerce and the other great
business lobbies, announced that they are going to use
the model of the health industry campaigns to intensify
their massive propaganda efforts to convince the public
to dismiss concerns about anthropogenic global warming.
That has been done with great success; those who believe
in this liberal hoax have reduced to barely a third of
the population. The executives dedicated to this task
know as well as the rest of us that the liberal hoax is
real and the prospects grim. But they are fulfilling
their institutional role. The fate of the species is an
externality that they must ignore, to the extent that
market systems prevail.

One of the clearest and most moving articulations of the
public mood that I have seen was written by Joseph Andrew
Stack, who crashed his small plane into an office
building in Austin, Texas, a few weeks ago, committing
suicide. He left a manifesto explaining his actions. It
was mostly ridiculed, but it deserves much better, I

Stack's manifesto traces the life history that led him to
this final desperate act. The story begins when he was a
teenage student living on a pittance in Harrisburg, PA,
near the heart of what was once a great industrial
center. His neighbor was a woman in her '80s, surviving
on cat food, the "widowed wife of a retired steel worker.
Her husband had worked all his life in the steel mills of
central Pennsylvania with promises from big business and
the union that, for his 30 years of service, he would
have a pension and medical care to look forward to in his
retirement. Instead he was one of the thousands who got
nothing because the incompetent mill management and
corrupt union (not to mention the government) raided
their pension funds and stole their retirement. All she
had was social security to live on" (quoting); and Stack
could have added that there have been concerted and
continuing efforts by the super rich and their political
allies to take even that away on spurious grounds. Stack
decided then that he couldn't trust big business and
would strike out on his own, only to discover that he
couldn't trust a government that cared nothing about
people like him, but only about the rich and privileged,
or a legal system in which, in his words, "there are two
'interpretations' for every law, one for the very rich
and one for the rest of us." Or a government that leaves
us with "the joke we call the American medical system,
including the drug and insurance companies [that] are
murdering tens of thousands of people a year," with care
rationed largely by wealth, not need. All in a social
order in which "a handful of thugs and plunderers can
commit unthinkable atrocities ... and when it's time for
their gravy train to crash under the weight of their
gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the
full federal government has no difficulty coming to their
aid within days if not hours." And much more.

Stack tells us that his desperate final act was an effort
to show that there are people willing to die for their
freedom, in the hope of awakening others from their
torpor. It wouldn't surprise me if he had in mind the
premature death of the steel worker that taught him about
the real world as a teenager. That steel worker didn't
literally commit suicide after having been discarded to
the trash heap, but it's far from an isolated case; we
can add his and many similar cases to the colossal toll
of the institutional crimes of state capitalism.

There are poignant studies of the indignation and rage of
those who have been cast aside as the state-corporate
programs of financialization and deindustrialization have
closed plants and destroyed families and communities.
They reveal the sense of acute betrayal on the part of
working people who believed they had a fulfilled their
duty to society in a moral compact with business and
government, only to discover that they had been only
instruments for profit and power, truisms from which they
had been carefully protected by doctrinal institutions.

Reading Joe Stack's manifesto and a great deal more like
it, I find myself recovering childhood memories and much
more that I did not then understand. The Weimar Republic
was the peak of western civilization in the sciences and
the arts, also regarded as a model of democracy. Through
the 1920s, the traditional liberal and conservative
parties entered into inexorable decline, well before the
process was intensified by the Great Depression. The
coalition that elected General Hindenburg in 1925 was not
very different from the mass base that swept Hitler into
office eight years later, compelling the aristocratic
Hindenburg to select as chancellor the "little corporal"
he despised. As late as 1928, the Nazis had less than 3
percent of the vote. Two years later, the most
respectable Berlin press was lamenting the sight of the
many millions in this "highly civilized country" who had
"given their vote to the commonest, hollowest and crudest
charlatanism." The public was becoming disgusted with the
incessant wrangling of Weimar politics, the service of
the traditional parties to powerful interests and their
failure to deal with popular grievances. They were drawn
to forces dedicated to upholding the greatness of the
nation and defending it against invented threats in a
revitalized, armed and unified state, marching to a
glorious future, led by the charismatic figure who was
carrying out "the will of eternal Providence, the Creator
of the universe," as he orated to the mesmerized masses.
By May 1933, the Nazis had largely destroyed not only the
traditional ruling parties, but even the huge
working-class parties, the Social Democrats and
Communists, along with their very powerful associations.
The Nazis declared May Day 1933 to be a workers holiday,
something the left parties had never been able to
achieve. Many working people took part in the enormous
patriotic demonstrations, with more than a million people
at the heart of Red Berlin, joining farmers, artisans,
shopkeepers, paramilitary forces, Christian
organizations, athletic and riflery clubs, and the rest
of the coalition that was taking shape as the center
collapsed. By the onset of the war, perhaps 90 percent of
Germans were marching with the brown shirts.

As I mentioned, I am just old enough to remember those
chilling and ominous days of Germany's descent from
decency to Nazi barbarism, to borrow the words of the
distinguished scholar of German history Fritz Stern. He
tells us that he has the future of the United States in
mind when he reviews "a historic process in which
resentment against a disenchanted secular world found
deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason."

The world is too complex for history to repeat, but there
are nevertheless lessons to keep in mind. There is no
shortage of tasks for those who choose the vocation of
critical intellectuals, whatever their station in life.
They can seek to sweep away the mists of carefully
contrived illusion and reveal the stark reality. They can
become directly engaged in popular struggles, helping to
organize the countless Joe Stacks who are destroying
themselves and maybe the world and to join them in
leading the way the way to a better future.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

BBC - Media distortions

first two hypocrits.. further below read an old article by Noam Chomsky
about the subject: WHY DO MEDIA LIE HABITUALLY? written a series of memoirs, was Unreliable
Sources a way of getting you away from an
autobiographical book, or have you got another book of
memoirs up your sleeve?

No, I think finished with memoirs. Apart from
anything else, the supply of grand events seems to have
dried up for the time being; at least in my own personal
experience. Writing about twentieth century journalism
was a big undertaking, given that I had to carry on with
my day job at the same time, but I found the research
fascinating and that kept me going. But it was two years
of very hard work indeed.

Since the invention of the printing press, journalism has
constantly evolved, but the key principles remain the
same. Which event do you see as the most important in the
history of journalism?

If I had to choose one single process, which isn.t at all
easy, it would be the move away from bald factual
statement to interpretation and investigation. It
started for most newspapers with the Second World War,
but it was a good fifteen or twenty years later before
journalists habitually regarded it as their job to tell
people what the news meant. Hand-in-hand with that went
a gradual end to the deference which journalists had
shown to politicians of all kinds, and to governments
most of all.

We saw newsrooms converge since the turn of the century,
with print and online working together. Has your job
changed with the demands of online journalism?

My job has changed immensely in the past decade, because
of online journalism; and in a rather enjoyable way it
has gone back to an older tradition. For most of my
career I have spoken my words into a radio or television
microphone. Now, every big report I make has to be
accompanied by a written article for BBC Online, in a
wholly different style. For us it has added a hugely
bigger audience around the world.

Citizen Journalism plays a small, but important role in
the media today, do you believe this is form of
journalism is the future, or do you think we will always
need trained journalists?

It.s important, and very valuable, to have the input of
ordinary people. The outside world.s understanding of
what.s going on in Iran or Zimbabwe, for instance, is
largely dependent on people with mobile phones and the
courage to get the word out. But a world in which this
is the only journalism would be a world without clear,
definable standards. Can we trust everything we see or
read on the Internet?

Of course not. You have to have the output of
journalists with a clear track record to make sense of
the world - even though, as I argue in my book,
journalism is a deeply flawed business. But without the
professionals, we.d be back in the fifteenth century,
listening to rumours and claims and uncertain which has
any authority. spent your working life at the BBC, working in
various countries, how has your job changed over the

The changes have been driven by technological advances,
and those have been extraordinary and, I would say,
deeply liberating. We reported the Vietnam War with
rolls of film which lasted for twelve minutes, were
horribly vulnerable to mistakes in processing, and had to
be given to the crew or passengers of planes leaving for
London. Almost all television news was therefore 24
hours behind the times -- no quicker than the newspapers.
Nowadays it can be instantaneous. That means got
to be quick on your feet. spent time presenting the news as well as
reporting. How do the two compare?

No contest. It.s safer and often better paid to spend
your life in a studio, but it.s infinitely more
stimulating and interesting to be out where real things
are happening.

As a reporter been involved in some major
historical events - Tiananmen Square, the return of
Ayatollah Khomeini and the two gulf wars. Which event do
you look back on and think: .I was there.?

Quite a few. They tend to crowd each other out.

Journalists such as Sir David Frost moved to Al Jazeera
as they felt news coverage in the West was biased. Do you
agree with this?

No. I think it.s the kind of thing people say when they
get a new job. got several friends who work for Al
Jazeera, and I think that in general the more competition
we have, the better. But I don.t believe in slagging off
the competition - with the exception of Fox News, which I
don.t think is news at all.

In Unreliable Sources, you ask if the press is ever
really free. Do you see yourself as a member of the
Fourth Estate and as someone who can hold the
powers-that-be responsible for their actions?

To me, that all sounds pompous and self-regarding. I.m
just a reporter. My job is to try to find out what.s
happening and tell other people about it without fear or
favour, and without trying to spin it in order to have a
particular effect. That.s hard enough to do, believe


Unreliable Sources: How the 20th Century was Reported by
John Simpson

Peter Beaumont finds partial truths in a BBC veteran's
tale of his trade

John Simpson in Chechnya, 1998. Photograph: BBC

Anyone who has been a journalist knows that whatever
admiration one's efforts attract tends to be balanced by
hatred and condemnation from another interested group.
Ours is a Manichaean universe. This has always been the
case, but what does seem to have changed recently is how
visible those discontented with what is sneeringly known
as the mainstream media (or "MSM") have become.

For those on the further edges of both left and right,
the MSM is usually defined as the problem. For tea
partiers, we are too liberal and in hock to government,
while for those who subscribe to Noam Chomsky and Edward
Herman's Manufacturing Consent, we are too right wing and
equally subservient to power.

So when Nick Davies's attack on the state of British
journalism, Flat Earth News, was published two years ago,
it plugged into a widespread sense of discontent with the
MSM, which had been exacerbated by the misreporting of
the run-up to the war in Iraq. While I didn't agree with
everything he wrote, Davies did diagnose many of the
modern media's failings and his coining of the neologism
"churnalism" seemed especially accurate.

He argued that there had once been a better era for
reporting, before hacks became chained to the wheel of
24-hour news. This is an idea that John Simpson, the
BBC's veteran world affairs editor, examines in
Unreliable Sources. His survey of 20th-century reporting
seems to confirm most of what critics of the MSM claim.
From the Boer war onwards, he depicts egotistical and
often unscrupulous hacks, many of them servile before
power or even secretly working for it, such as the Times
colonial editor, Flora Shaw, who was a go-between in the
planning of the Jameson Raid of 1895-96.

When he offers "extraordinary" exceptions, two are
American - Ed Murrow and Martha Gellhorn - although he
seems to forget that the latter, a friend of his, was
capable of a famous fabrication, falsely placing herself
at the scene of a lynching.

There are a couple of problems with this weighty volume.
The first isn't confined to Simpson's book but to the
broader issue of media criticism from Chomsky onwards,
which has argued that journalists tend to self-regulate
what they report to please authority, an assertion that
has only ever been at best partially true. For what it
fails to distinguish between is the degree to which
journalism sets out to influence the society it operates
within and the degree to which it is an inherent
reflection of cultural norms and values.

Simpson, for instance, describes the media
representations of the sieges of Mafeking, Ladysmith and
Kimberley in the Boer war. But his assertion that
"Mafeking ensured that the mass of newspaper readers
regarded the war as part of the nation's imperial
adventure, rather than something questionable and
potentially disastrous", while reflecting how we might
see it today, ignores how contemporary readers would have
felt about empire. It is a mistake he makes more than
once, compounding the book's peculiarly ahistorical feel.
In his conclusion, he says the media at the beginning of
the 21st century are recognisably the same as those which
existed at the beginning of the 20th. Is this really the

The second problem is related. The scale of his book,
which tries to span two world wars, the end of empire,
Northern Ireland, the Falklands and Kosovo, means it is
difficult to marshal a cogent argument save that a lot of
rum things go on in the media. Hardly a startling
revelation. The drawbacks of this approach are
particularly noticeable in later sections, where he is
selective in presenting his material. His depiction of
the Blair government's attempts to control the media over
the Kosovo war, for example, is crudely stripped of
explanatory context and the war is turned into a
simplistic tale of gung-ho misreporting and government

Isn't he guilty of what he lambasts others for -
misrepresentation? For if his subtext is that honest,
passionate reporters have to struggle against vested
interest to tell what they see, he has written out of his
history an awful lot of them. In the case of Kosovo, this
means the likes of Tim Judah, Anthony Loyd, the late Kurt
Schork and photographers Ron Haviv and Andrew Testa. All
have been edited out of history to make a better story.
But that's journalists for you.


Chomsky warns of media distortion

By Niraj S. Desai

The media and other institutions form prisms through
which ideas and information reach the public, according
to Institute Professor Noam A. Chomsky. Those who care
about freedom and democracy, about controlling their own
lives, must discern how social realities are distorted by
such prisms, he said.

Chomsky's comments came at his talk last night on the
role of the media in the United States. The talk, which
was sponsored by the MIT Committee on Central America,
was attended by about 400 people.

Chomsky presented two theoretical models on which to base
analyses of the media's role. The traditional,
"Jeffersonian" model sees the media as a counterweight to
governmental power. The "propaganda" model, on the other
hand, sees journalists as agents and adjuncts of the

One problem common to both models, according to Chomsky,
is that they assume that there is a single, centralized
source of power -- the government. In fact, power is
spread about among corporations and other power elites,
Chomsky said. It is the relation of the media -- as
either counterbalance or agent -- to these elites that
must be studied, he added.

The traditional model is the one in which journalists
themselves profess to believe. This model is so firmly
entrenched that much of the debate on the media's role --
both in the press and in academia -- focuses on whether
the media coverage is too negative, not whether it is
properly functioning as a check on elite interests,
Chomsky said.

This focus is peculiar given the real questions that
exist over whether the news media are independent enough
from the "state/corporate nexus," Chomsky said. He noted
that former Sen. J. William Fulbright, when he was
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was
deeply disturbed to find out how much of the US role in
Vietnam had been hidden from the public and from

As an alternative to the traditional model, Chomsky
offered what he called the propaganda model. Chomsky
quoted the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr as writing that
the elites must create "necessary illusions" to control
the mass of people, who were unable to make rational
decisions. Under the propaganda model, the media attempts
to create illusions which will allow the corporate elite
to continue in power.

While it might appear that the media sometimes does
publicize views that differ with official policy, this
appearance of even-handedness is largely a veneer,
Chomsky said. For example, even though the large majority
of the elite disagree with US funding for the Nicaraguan
contras because it is inefficient, according to Chomsky,
the media has reported even less disagreement than
actually exists.

And on issues on which all of the power elite agrees,
Chomsky said, the media stifles discussion, adopting the
ground rules and terminology of the establishment. Among
these issues are US aid to the regime of El Salvador and
Nicaragua, which Chomsky labeled terrorist states, and
the idea that no nation may defend itself against US

The propaganda model is at first glance attractive,
according to Chomsky, because: many of the elite believe
the media ought to follow this model; most people believe
the media is too submissive to established power; and the
corporate, institutional nature of media organizations
like The New York Times make their closes ties to the
corporate elite plausible.

The model becomes even more attractive on close
examination, Chomsky said. This thesis of media
operations is one of the best confirmed in social
science, he said.

"What picture of the world would you expect to come out
of such a system?" Chomsky warned his audience.


Distortions at Fourth Hand Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman
The Nation, June 6, 1977 On May 1, 1977, the New York
Times published an account of the "painful problems of
peace" in Vietnam by Fox Butterfield. He describes the
"woes" of the people of the South, their "sense of
hardship" and the grim conditions of their life,
concluding that "most Southerners are said to appear
resigned to their fate." His evidence comes from
"diplomats, refugees and letters from Vietnam." In
journals of the War Resisters League and the American
Friends Service Committee of March-May 1977, in contrast,
there are lengthy reports by Carol Bragg on a visit to
Vietnam earlier this year by a six-person AFSC
delegation, including two who had worked in Vietnam and
are fluent in Vietnamese. The group traveled widely in
the South and spoke to well-known leaders of the
non-Communist Third Force who are active in the press and
government, as well as ordinary citizens. They report
impressive social and economic progress in the face of
the enormous destruction left by the war, a "pioneering
life" that is "difficult and at times discouraging," but
everywhere "signs of a nation rebuilding" with commitment
and dedication.

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

But none of this extensive evidence appears in the New
York Times's analysis of "conditions in Indochina two
years after the end of the war there." Nor is there any
discussion in the Times of the "case of the missing
bloodbath," although forecasts of a holocaust were urged
by the U.S. leadership, official experts and the mass
media over the entire course of the war in justifying our
continued military presence. On the other hand, protests
by some former anti-war individuals against alleged human
rights violations in Vietnam are given generous coverage.
This choice of subject may be the only basis on which
U.S. -- as opposed to Soviet -- dissidents can get
serious attention in the mass media today.

The technical name for this farce is "freedom of the
press." All are free to write as they wish: Fox
Butterfield, with his ideological blinders, on the front
page of the Times (daily circulation more than 800,000);
and Carol Bragg, with her eyewitness testimony, in New
England Peacework (circulation 2,500). Typically, reports
which emphasize the destruction caused by the United
States and the progress and commitment of the Vietnamese
reach a tiny circle of peace activists. Reports that
ignore the American role -- Butterfield can only bring
himself to speak of "substantial tracts of land made
fallow [sic] by the war," with no agent indicated -- and
that find only "woes" and distress, reach a mass audience
and become part of the established truth. In this way a
"line" is implanted in the public mind with all the
effectiveness of a system of censorship, while the
illusion of an open press and society is maintained. If
dictators were smarter, they would surely use the
American system of thought control and indoctrination.

It was inevitable with the failure of the American effort
to subdue South Vietnam and to crush the mass movements
elsewhere in Indochina, that there would be a campaign to
reconstruct the history of these years so as to place the
role of the United States in a more favorable light. The
drab view of contemporary Vietnam provided by Butterfield
and the establishment press helps to sustain the desired
rewriting of history, asserting as it does the sad
results of Communist success and American failure. Well
suited for these aims are tales of Communist atrocities,
which not only prove the evils of communism but undermine
the credibility of those who opposed the war and might
interfere with future crusades for freedom.

* * *

It is in this context that we must view the recent spate
of newspaper reports, editorials and books on Cambodia, a
part of the world not ordinarily of great concern to the
press. However, an exception is made when useful lessons
may be drawn and public opinion mobilized in directions
advantageous to the established order. Such didacticism
often plays fast and loose with the truth.

For example, on April 8, 1977, The Washington Post
devoted half a page to "photographs believed to be the
first of actual forced labor conditions in the
countryside of Cambodia [to] have reached the West." The
pictures show armed soldiers guarding people pulling
plows, others working fields, and one bound man ("It is
not known if this man was killed," the caption reads).
Quite a sensational testimonial to Communist atrocities,
but there is a slight problem. The Washington Post
account of how they were smuggled out by a relative of
the photographer who died in the escape is entirely
fanciful. The pictures had appeared a year earlier in
France, Germany and Australia, as well as in the Bangkok
Post (April 19, 1976) with the caption "True or False?"
In fact, an attempt by a Thai trader to sell these photos
to the Bangkok Post was turned down "because the origin
and authenticity of the photographs were in doubt." The
photos appeared in another Thai newspaper two days before
the April 4th election. The Bangkok Post then published
them, explaining in an accompanying article that "Khmer
watchers" were dubious about the clothes and manner of
the people depicted, and quoting "other observers" who
"pointed to the possibility that the series of pictures
could have been taken in Thailand with the prime
objective of destroying the image of the Socialist
parties" before the election.

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

Even if the photographs had been authentic, we might ask
why people should be pulling plows in Cambodia. The
reason is clear, if unmentioned. The savage American
assault on Cambodia did not spare the animal population.
Hildebrand and Porter, in their Cambodia: Starvation and
Revolution, cite a Cambodian Government report of April
1976 that several hundred thousand draft animals were
killed in the rural areas. The Post did not have to
resort to probable fabrications to depict the facts. A
hundred-word item buried in The New York Times of June
14, 1976, cites an official U.N. report that teams of
"human buffaloes" pull plows in Laos in areas where the
buffalo herds, along with everything else, were decimated
(by the American bombing, although this goes unmentioned
in the Times. Much the same is true in Vietnam. Quite
possibly the U.N. or the Laotian Government could supply
photographic evidence, but this would not satisfy the
needs of current propaganda.

The response to the three books under review nicely
illustrates this selection process. Hildebrand and Porter
present a carefully documented study of the destructive
American impact on Cambodia and the success of the
Cambodian revolutionaries in overcoming it, giving a very
favorable picture of their programs and policies, based
on a wide range of sources. Published last year, and well
received by the journal of the Asia Society (Asia,
March-April 1977), it has not been reviewed in the Times,
New York Review or any mass-media publication, nor used
as the basis for editorial comment, with one exception.
The Wall Street Journal acknowledged its existence in an
editorial entitled "Cambodia Good Guys" (November 22,
1976), which dismissed contemptuously the very idea that
the Khmer Rouge could play a constructive role, as well
as the notion that the United States had a major hand in
the destruction, death and turmoil of wartime and postwar
Cambodia. In another editorial on the "Cambodian Horror"
(April 16, 1976), the Journal editors speak of the
attribution of postwar difficulties to U.S. intervention
as "the record extension to date of the politics of
guilt." On the subject of "Unscrambling Chile" (September
20, 1976), however, the abuses of the "manfully
rebuilding" Chilean police state are explained away as an
unfortunate consequence of Allendista "wrecking" of the

In brief, Hildebrand and Porter attribute "wrecking" and
"rebuilding" to the wrong parties in Cambodia. In his
Foreword to Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, Asian
scholar George Kahin observes that it is a book from
which "anyone who is interested in understanding the
situation obtaining in Phnom Penh before and after the
Lon Nol government's collapse and the character and
programs of the Cambodian Government that has replaced it
will, I am sure, be grateful..." But the mass media are
not grateful for the Hildebrand-Porter message, and have
shielded the general public from such perceptions of

* * *

In contrast, the media favorite, Barron and Paul's
"untold story of Communist Genocide in Cambodia" (their
subtitle), virtually ignores the U.S. Government role.
When they speak of "the murder of a gentle land," they
are not referring to B-52 attacks on villages or the
systematic bombing and murderous ground sweeps by
American troops or forces organized and supplied by the
United States, in a land that had been largely removed
from the conflict prior to the American attack. Their
point of view can be predicted from the "diverse sources"
on which they relied: namely, "informal briefings from
specialists at the State and Defense Departments, the
National Security Council and three foreign embassies in
Washington." Their "Acknowledgements" mention only the
expertise of Thai and Malaysian officials, U.S.
Government Cambodian experts, and Father Ponchaud. They
also claim to have analysed radio and refugee reports.

Their scholarship collapses under the barest scrutiny. To
cite a few cases, they state that among those evacuated
from Phnom Penh, "virtually everybody saw the
consequences of [summary executions] in the form of the
corpses of men, women and children rapidly bloating and
rotting in the hot sun," citing, among others, J.J.
Cazaux, who wrote, in fact, that "not a single corpse was
seen along our evacuation route," and that early reports
of massacres proved fallacious (The Washington Post, May
9, 1975). They also cite The New York Times, May 9, 1975,
where Sydney Shanberg wrote that "there have been
unconfirmed reports of executions of senior military and
civilian officials ... But none of this will apparently
bear any resemblance to the mass executions that had been
predicted by Westerners," and that "Here and there were
bodies, but it was difficult to tell if they were people
who had succumbed to the hardships of the march or simply
civilians and soldiers killed in the last battles." They
do not mention the Swedish journalist, Olle Tolgraven, or
Richard Boyle of Pacific News Service, the last newsman
to leave Cambodia, who denied the existence of wholesale
executions; nor do they cite the testimony of Father
Jacques Engelmann, a priest with nearly two decades of
experience in Cambodia, who was evacuated at the same
time and reported that evacuated priests "were not
witness to any cruelties" and that there were deaths, but
"not thousands, as certain newspapers have written"
(cited by Hildebrand and Porter).

Barron and Paul claim that there is no evidence of
popular support for the Communists in the countryside and
that people "fled to the cities" as a result of the
"harsh regimen" imposed by the Communistrs -- not the
American bombing. Extensive evidence to the contrary,
including eyewitness reports and books by French and
American correspondents and observers long familiar with
Cambodia (e.g., Richard Dudman, Serge Thion, J.C.
Pomonti, Charles Meyer) is never cited. Nor do they try
to account for the amazingly rapid growth of the
revolutionary forces from 1969 to 1973, as attested by
U.S. intelligence and as is obvious from the unfolding
events themselves.

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

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

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

* * *

Before looking more closely at Ponchaud's book and its
press treatment, we would like to point out that apart
from Hildebrand and Porter there are many other sources
on recent events in Cambodia that have not been brought
to the attention of the American reading public. Space
limitations preclude a comprehensive review, but such
journals as the Far Eastern Economic Review, the London
Economist, the Melbourne Journal of Politics, and others
elsewhere, have provided analyses by highly qualified
specialists who have studied the full range of evidence
available, and who concluded that executions have
numbered at most in the thousands; that these were
localized in areas of limited Khmer Rouge influence and
unusual peasant discontent, where brutal revenge killings
were aggravated by the threat of starvation resulting
from the American destruction and killing. These reports
also emphasize both the extraordinary brutality on both
sides during the civil war (provoked by the American
attack) and repeated discoveries that massacre reports
were false. They also testify to the extreme
unreliability of refugee reports, and the need to treat
them with great caution, a fact that we and others have
discussed elsewhere (cf. Chomsky: At War with Asia, on
the problems of interpreting reports of refugees from
American bombing in Laos). Refugees are frightened and
defenseless, at the mercy of alien forces. They naturally
tend to report what they believe their interlocuters wish
to hear. While these reports must be considered
seriously, care and caution are necessary. Specifically,
refugees questioned by Westerners or Thais have a vested
interest in reporting atrocities on the part of Cambodian
revolutionaries, an obvious fact that no serious reporter
will fail to take into account.

To give an illustration of just one neglected source, the
London Economist (March 26, 1977) carried a letter by
W.J. Sampson, who worked as an economist and statistician
for the Cambodian Government until March 1975, in close
contact with the central statistics office. After leaving
Cambodia, he writes, he "visited refugee camps in
Thailand and kept in touch with Khmers," and he also
relied on "A European friend who cycled around Phnom Penh
for many days after its fall [and] saw and heard of no
... executions" apart from "the shooting of some
prominent politicians and the lynching of hated bomber
pilots in Phnom Penh." He concludes "that executions
could be numbered in hundreds or thousands rather than in
hundreds of thousands," though there was "a big death
toll from sickness" -- surely a direct consequence, in
large measure, of the devastation caused by the American
attack. Sampson's analysis is known to those in the press
who have cited Ponchaud at second-hand, but has yet to be
reported here. And his estimate of executions is far from

Expert analyses of the sort just cited read quite
differently from the confident conclusions of the mass
media. Here we read the "Most foreign experts on Cambodia
and its refugees believe at least 1.2 million persons
have been killed or have died as a result of the
Communist regime since April 17, 1975" (UPI, Boston
Globe, April 17, 1977). No source is given, but it is
interesting that a 1.2 million estimate is attributed by
Ponchaud to the American Embassy (Presumably Bangkok), a
completely worthless source, as the historical record
amply demonstrates. The figure bears a suggestive
similarity to the prediction by U.S. officials at the
war's end that 1 million would die in the next year.

In the New York Times Magazine, May 1, 1977, Robert Moss
(editor of a dubious offshoot of Britain's Economist
called "Foreign Report" which specializes in sensational
rumors from the world's intelligence agencies) asserts
that "Cambodia's pursuit of total revolution has
resulted, by the official admission of its Head of State,
Khieu Samphan, in the slaughter of a million people."
Moss informs us that the source of this statement is
Barron and Paul, who claim that in an interview with the
Italian weekly Famiglia Cristiana Khieu Samphan stated
that more than a million died during the war, and that
the population had been 7 million before the war and is
now 5 million. Even if one places some credence in the
reported interview nowhere in it does Khieu Samphan
suggest that the million postwar deaths were a result of
official policies (as opposed to the lag effects of a war
that left large numbers ill, injured, and on the verge of
starvation). The "slaughter" by the Khmer Rouge is a
Moss-New York Times creation.

A Christian Science Monitor editorial states: "Reports
put the loss of life as high as 2 million people out of
7.8 million total." Again, there is no source, but we
will suggest a possibility directly. The New York Times
analysis of "two years after the Communist victory" goes
still further. David Andelman, May 2, 1977, speaks
without qualification of "the purges that took hundreds
of thousands of lives in the aftermath of the Communist
capture of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975." Even the U.S.
Government sources on which journalists often
uncritically rely advance no such claim, to our
knowledge. In fact, even Barron and Paul claim only that
"100,000 or more" were killed in massacres and executions
-- they base their calculations on a variety of
interesting assumptions, among them, that all military
men, civil-servants and teachers were targeted for
execution; curiously, their "calculations" lead them to
the figure of 1.2 million deaths as a result of "actions"
of the Khmer Rouge governing authorities, by January 1,
1977 ("at a very minimum"); by a coincidence, the number
reported much earlier by the American Embassy, according
to Ponchaud. Elsewhere in the press, similar numbers are
bandied about, with equal credibility.

* * *

Ponchaud's book is serious and worth reading, as distinct
from much of the commentary it has elicited. He gives a
grisly account of of what refugees have reported to him
about the barbarity of their treatment at the hands of
the Khmer Rouge. He also reminds us of some relevant
history. For example, in this "peaceful land," peasants
were massacred, their lands stolen and villages
destroyed, by police and army in 1966, many then joining
the maquis out of "their hatred for a government
exercising such injustices and sowing death." He reports
the enormous destruction and murder resulting directly
from the American attack on Cambodia, the starvation and
epidemics as the population was driven from their
countryside by American military terror and the
U.S.-incited civil war, leaving Cambodia with "an economy
completely devastated by the war." He points out that
"from the time of Sihanouk, then Lon Nol, the soldiers of
the government army had already employed, with regard to
their Khmer Rouge 'enemies,' bloodthirsty methods in no
way different from those of Democratic Cambodia" (the
Khmer Rouge). He also gives a rather positive account of
Khmer Rouge programs of social and economic development,
while deploring much brutal practice in working for
egalitarian goals and national independence.

Ponchaud's book lacks the documentation provided in
Hildebrand and Porter and its veracity is therefore
difficult to assess. But the serious reader will find
much to make him somewhat wary. For one thing, Ponchaud
plays fast and loose with quotes and with numbers. He
quotes an unattributed Khmer Rouge slogan, "One or two
million young people will be enough to build the new
Cambodia." In an article in Le Monde (February 18, 1976)
he gives what appears to be the same quote, this time as
follows: "To rebuild the new Cambodia, a million people
are enough." Here the quote is attributed to a Khmer
Rouge military commander, along with the statement
misrepresented by Barron and Paul, noted above (Lacouture
changes the numbers to 1.5 million to 2 million,
attributes the quote to an unnamed Marxist, and concludes
that it goes beyond barbarism). This is one of the rare
examples of a quote that can be checked. The results are
not impressive.

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

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

In fact, where an independent check is possible,
Ponchaud's account seems at best careless, sometimes in
rather significant ways. Nevertheless, the book is a
serious work, however much the press has distorted it.

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

As an instance, consider the Christian Science Monitor
editorial already cited, which gives a fair sample of
what is available to the American public. This editorial,
based on Lacouture's review, speaks of the "reign of
terror against the population" instituted by the Khmer
Rouge. Lacouture, like Ponchaud, emphasizes the brutality
of the American war, which laid the basis for all that
followed. These references disappear from the Monitor
editorial, which pretends that the current suffering in
Cambodia takes place in an historical vacuum, as a mere
result of Communist savagery. Similarly, an earlier
editorial (January 26, 1977), based on Barron and Paul,
also avoids any reference to American responsibility,
though there is much moralizing about those who are
indifferent to "one of the most brutal and concentrated
onslaughts in history" in this "lovely land" of "engaging

* * *

The newspaper report that elicited these judgements, on
which the press uncritically relies, does appear in
Ponchaud's book. The source, however, is not a Cambodian
Government newspaper but a Thai newspaper, a considerable
difference. The quoted paragraph was written by a Thai
reporter who claims to have had an interview with a Khmer
Rouge official. In his corrections, Lacouture notes the
error, and adds that this Khmer Rouge official "said, as
Ponchaud writes, that he found the revolutionary method
of the Vietnamese 'very slow'..." A more accurate
statement would be that the Thai reporter claims that
that is what was said -- by now, a sufficiently remote
chain of transmission to raise many doubts. How seriously
would we regard a critical account of the United States
in a book by a hostile European leftist based on a report
in Pravda of a statement allegedly made by an unnamed
American official? The analogy is precise. Why then
should we rest any judgment on Ponchaud's account of a
Thai report of an alleged statement by an unnamed Khmer
Rouge official? What is certain is that the basis for
Lacouture's accusations, cited above, disappears when the
quotes are properly attributed: to a Thai reporter, not a
Cambodian Government newspaper.

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

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

If, indeed, postwar Cambodia is, as he believes, similar
to Nazi Germany, then his comment is perhaps just, though
we may add that he has produced no evidence to support
this judgement. But if postwar Cambodia is more similar
to France after liberation, where many thousands of
people were massacred within a few months under far less
rigorous conditions than those left by the American war,
then perhaps a rather different judgement is in order.
That the latter conclusion may be more nearly correct is
suggested by the analyses mentioned earlier.

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

* * *

We do not pretend to know where the truth lies amidst
these sharply conflicting assessments; rather, we again
want to emphasize some crucial points. What filters
through to the American public is a seriously distorted
version of the evidence available, emphasizing alleged
Khmer Rouge atrocities and downplaying or ignoring the
crucial U.S. role, direct and indirect, in the torment
that Cambodia has suffered. Evidence that focuses on the
American role, like the Hildebrand and Porter volume, is
ignored, not on the basis of truthfulness or scholarship
but because the message is unpalatable.

It is a fair generalization that the larger the number of
deaths attributed to the Khmer Rouge, and the more the
U.S. role is set aside, the larger the audience that will
be reached. The Barron-Paul volume is a third-rate
propaganda tract, but its exclusive focus on Communist
terror assures it a huge audience. Ponchaud's far more
substantial work has an anti-Communist bias and message,
but it has attained stardom only via the extreme
anti-Khmer Rouge distortions added to it in the article
in the New York Review of Books. The last added the
adequately large numbers executed and gave a "Left"
authentication of Communist evil that assured a quantum
leap to the mass audience unavailable to Hildebrand and
Porter or to Carol Bragg. Contrary facts and even
authors' corrections of misstatements are generally
ignored or inadequately reported in favor of a useful
lesson (we note one exception: an honest retraction of an
editorial based on Lacouture in the Boston Globe. We
noted earlier that the Monitor editorial and other press
comments built on the Lacouture review offer at best a
fourth-hand account. The chain of transmission runs from
refugees (or Thai or U.S. officials), to Ponchaud, to the
New York Review, to the press, where a mass audience is
reached and "facts" are established that enter the
approved version of history.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Alexander Cockburn like Noam Chomaky denies 911 REPOSTE

Noam, please read this and spend an hour speedreading the
HUGE MASS of information about what a stinking mess 9/11 is.

Because you could be wrong. People look what you do.
Many intuitively understand that you don't allow yourself
to speak about 9/11 being an inside job.

It would be enough to say that it is highly unlikely that
19 late teenagers brought down 4 skyscrapers (wtc1,2 3[!] and 7)
hit the pentagon near groundlevel. There are physical impossiblities,
ask any expert who has actually studied the events.

so here, a MUST READ for you:

Counterpunch co-editor Alexander Cockburn ... [wrote] ...
an article describing theologian and ethicist David Ray
Griffin, the author of The New Pearl Harbor (2004) and
of The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions
(2005), as a "high priest" of the "conspiracy nuts" --
whom Cockburn denounces as cultists who "disdain all
answers but their own," who "seize on coincidences
and force them into sequences they deem to be logical
and significant," and who "pounce on imagined clues in
documents and photos, [...] contemptuously
brush[ing] aside" evidence that contradicts their
own "whimsical" treatment of "eyewitness testimony
and forensic evidence."


The overall quality of the essays that he and Jeffrey
St. Clair publish in Counterpunch makes it easy on
most days of the week to agree with Out of
Bounds Magazine.s description of it -- trumpeted on
Counterpunch.s masthead -- as "America.s best political
newsletter." And admired Cockburn.s own
political essays for many years: he.s written
movingly, sometimes brilliantly, on a wide range of
subjects 1 -- even if his flashes of brilliance sometimes
alternate with breathtaking pratfalls: among them his
dismissal, as recently as March 2001, of the
evidence for global warming; his scoffing, in
November 2004, at the rapidly gathering indications
that the US presidential election of 2004 had been
stolen; and a year later, his mockery of the
well-established theory of peak oil and his adherence
to the genuinely daft notion that the earth
produces limitless quantities of abiotic oil. 2 One can
forgive a journalist.s slender grasp of the rudiments of
scientific understanding. But given his self-appointed
role as defender of the progressive left against a horde
of fools, it.s dismaying to find him sliding as
frequently as he does into positions that seem not just
quirky but -- dare I say it -- unprogressive.


What of my subtitle, then -- which I.m afraid is wordy as
well as impolite?

"How Alexander Cockburn, Otherwise So Bright, Blanks Out
on 9/11 Evidence"

It sets out to parody the scarcely less
elephantine subtitles of two of the three recent
Counterpunch articles that I.m going to be commenting
on here (read .em yourself, and weep):

Alexander Cockburn, "The 9/11 Conspiracy Nuts: How They
Let the Guilty Parties of 9/11 Slip Off the Hook,"
Counterpunch (9-10 September 2006),

Joshua Frank, "Proving Nothing: How the 9/11 Truth
Movement Helps Bush & Cheney," Counterpunch (11 September

The subtitle of Cockburn.s diatribe is no doubt
meant to be inflammatory -- though if
understood him rightly, he.s not literally arguing
that the perpetrators of 9/11 would all be behind bars
if it weren.t for those 9/11 wackos. Frank.s subtitle
might also border on the category of fighting words,
were it not that his essay, as he himself predicts,
proves nothing. (Students of political rhetoric
will note, in passing, how precisely Cockburn.s and
Frank.s subtitles exemplify the trope of unintended
consequences that Albert Hirschman in his classic study
of The Rhetoric of Reaction calls "the perversity
thesis," which "reactive" or reactionary thinkers since
Joseph de Maistre at the time of the French
Revolution have deployed to argue that the actions
of their

deluded opponents "will produce, via a chain of
unintended consequences, the exact contrary of the
objective being proclaimed and pursued.") 4

After the appearance of these two pieces on
successive days, Counterpunch honoured a familiar
boxing rhythm (quick left and right, pause, sucker-punch)
by leaving a gap of several days before releasing a third
broadside against 9/11 researchers:

Diana Johnstone, "In Defense of Conspiracy: 9/11: In
Theory and Fact," Counterpunch (15 September 2006),

Johnstone.s essay is more substantial than the preceding
two. But any reader lured by its title into thinking that
Counterpunch was actually permitting real debate on the
subject of 9/11 would indeed be suckered. And there is
again a problem with subtitles. As I intend to show, this
piece offers little in the way of facts, and is defective
-- though instructively so -- in its theorizing.

1. Alexander Cockburn: beyond table-thumping to the
evidence Alexander Cockburn.s attack on "The 9/11
Conspiracy Nuts," though rhetorically skilful, is vacuous
in substance. It is in large part devoted to arguing that
a "devout, albeit preposterous belief in American
efficiency" is the "fundamental idiocy" which leads
"conspiracy nuts" to think that there must be
something suspicious about the massive failures of
the US air defense system on 9/11. Anyone even
remotely acquainted with military history, Cockburn
asserts, would know "that minutely planned operations
-- let alone responses to an unprecedented emergency --
screw up with monotonous regularity, by reason of
stupidity, cowardice, venality, weather and all the
other whims of providence." I.m not interested in
defending the efficiency of the American military --
or of anyone else.s military, for that matter. (In fact,
I could supplement the little catalogue of military
ineptitudes that Cockburn presents with some choice
additional ones drawn from the period of my own brief
spell decades ago with the Canadian navy -- among them
an incident in which an American destroyer
contrived to get itself cut in half by the
Australian aircraft carrier Melbourne.) Yet if we attend
for a moment not to Cockburn.s overheated rhetorical
questions and table-thumping repetition of the
capitalized word "CONSPIRACY," but rather to the
established and uncontroversial evidence, it is at once
obvious that what is at issue is not primarily, as
Cockburn thinks, the gap between his own expectations
of bungling incompetence and David Ray Griffin.s
understanding of what a normal air defense response
should have been. As anyone who presumes to hold forth
on this aspect of the 9/11 evidence should know, what is
really incriminating about the failure to intercept
the aircraft which were flown on that day into the Twin
Towers and (by the official account) into the Pentagon is
not the simple absence of fighter-interceptors over New
York and Washington, but rather the fact that that
absence was ensured by a series of concurrent military
exercises which had transferred most of the
available interceptors out of the northeastern
region, and which for a crucial period that morning left
the military air traffic controllers responsible for
vectoring the remaining fighters into position unable to
determine which of the many blips appearing on their
radar screens represented actual as opposed to simulated
threats. (See Michael C. Ruppert, Crossing the Rubicon pp.

We can add to this what seems the no less
incriminating testimony of Transportation Secretary
Norman Mineta to the 9/11 Commission, which suggests
very strongly that Vice President Cheney had
ordered a stand-down of missile defenses protecting
Washington DC.


Midway through his essay, Cockburn offers a
curious little detour into the complexities of the
JFK assassination, telling us that in his view, the
Warren Commission, as confirmed in almost all essentials
by the House Committee on Assassinations in the late
1970s, had it right and Oswald fired the fatal shots
from the Schoolbook Depository. The evidentiary
chain for his guilt is persuasive, and the
cumulative scenarios of the conspiracy nuts entirely
unconvincing. But of course -- as the years roll by,
and even though no death bed confession has ever
buttressed those vast, CIA-related scenarios -- the
nuts keep on toiling away, their obsessions as
unflagging as ever.

These sentences are a close rhetorical analogue to
that fighter.s tactic -- more in use among
half-crocked bar-room brawlers than boxers, it must
be said -- known as leading with one.s chin. The
"conspiracy nuts" Cockburn sneers at include D. B. Thomas
of the USDA Subtropical Agriculture Research Laboratory
in Texas, who after analyzing the acoustical evidence
of gunshots preserved on a Dallas police department
recording from Dealey Plaza at the time of the
assassination, concluded in a peer-reviewed study
published in 2001 by the journal Science &
Justice that the recording "contains five impulsive
sounds that have the acoustic waveform of Dealey
Plaza gunfire," and that "One of the sounds matches
the echo pattern of a test shot fired from the Grassy

CITE: D. B. Thomas, "Echo correlation analysis and the
acoustic evidence in the Kennedy assassination
revisited," Science & Justice 41 (2001): 21-32. Thomas
finds that "A conservative estimate of the true value of
the probability that the putative Grassy Knoll shot is
attributable to random radio noise is no greater than

So much for the Warren Commission.s three (and no more)
shots fired by Oswald from the Texas Book Depository:
more than three shoots, and more than one shooter, means
a conspiracy. And by the way, it.s not strictly true
that the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations
Report confirmed the Warren Commission Report "in
almost all essentials," since the HSCA Report did
in fact conclude that the assassination was
probably organized by a conspiracy.

CITE: House of Representatives Select Committee on
Assassinations, House Report Wo. 95- 1828 (Washington, DC,
1979), p. 95; quoted by Thomas, "Echo correlation
analysis," 22.

There is more in Cockburn.s essay on the 9/11 evidence:
he has a brief fling at the people who doubt that a
Boeing 757 could have hit the Pentagon, and
exercises his ironic wit for several paragraphs at the
expense of the reality-disdaining nuts who think that
the towers of the World Trade Center were brought down
by planned demolitions. Cockburn scoffs at the paranoid
folly of those who believe that

-- The WTC towers didn.t fall down because they were
badly built as a consequence of corruption,
incompetence, regulatory evasions by the Port
Authority, and because they were struck by huge
planes loaded with jet fuel. No, they fell because Dick
Cheney.s agents methodically planted demolition charges
in the preceding days. It was a conspiracy of
thousands, all of whom -- party to mass murder --
have held their tongues ever since. --

Perhaps (although he doesn.t share it with us)
Cockburn has evidence that the Twin Towers were so
incompetently built as to be especially liable to
explosive disintegration into showers of cut steel and
pyroclastic clouds of fine-particle dust. But like the
9/11 Commission, he manages quietly to forget about the
collapse of WTC 7 late in the afternoon of 9/11: this
47-storey steel-framed tower, which was damaged by debris
from the North Tower but not struck by any aircraft,
collapsed at free-fall speed into its own footprint in
what half a dozen different videos show to have been a
classic implosion demolition. Significantly, FEMA and
NIST have failed to offer any plausible alternative
explanation of this collapse.

Why don.t we try replacing the gag orders that
have silenced 9/11 whistleblowers like Sibel Edmonds
with an independent criminal investigation, and see
what crawls out of the woodwork? But refuting this
rhetoric at length would be tedious. I would prefer
instead to quote Paul Craig Roberts. magisterial rebuke:

-- The explanation that the three WTC buildings collapsed
as a result of damage and fire is a mere assertion. The
assertion is not backed up with scientific calculation
to demonstrate that the energy from the airliners,
fire and gravity was sufficient to collapse the
buildings. A number of independent authorities
believe that there is a very large energy deficit
in the official account of the collapse of the
buildings. Until this issue is resolved, the
official explanation is merely an assertion no matter
who believes it. --


Looking away from the 9/11 evidence

Why have otherwise admirable leftist journalists
like Cockburn, Frank, and Johnstone been so
strangely averse to attending to the evidence
about 9/11 alluded to above? One reason may be that
even the hypothesis of state complicity in the events
of 9/11 entails confronting the possibility that we
are living through a moment of major historical
transformation and discontinuity.

It is one thing to accept, as an abstract
proposition, that the United States may have moved
from the end of its republican period into a
state of imperial autocracy. Chalmers Johnson.s
diagnosis in The Sorrows of Empire is, after all, both
scrupulous and unambiguous -- as is his conclusion that
the American people might conceivably retake control of
Congress, reform it along with the corrupted election
laws that have made it a forum for special
interests, turn it into a genuine assembly of
democratic representatives, and cut off the supply of
money to the Pentagon and the secret intelligence
agencies [...] At this late date, however, it is
difficult to imagine how Congress, much like the Roman
senate in the last days of the republic, could be brought
back to life and cleansed of its endemic corruption.

Johnson.s analysis may well arouse in us a Virgilian
sense of lacrimae rerum, of the grief of temporality, and
the sadness of "states doomed to ruin," perituraque

But it is another thing altogether to confront in
detail the manner in which the transition from
republic to autocracy is being orchestrated -- not
just through the out-of- control militarism that
Johnson so finely documents, but also through what
Peter Dale Scott has called the "deep politics" of
a ruling elite which is thoroughly habituated to
reliance on covert agencies that are in no way
answerable to democratic governance.

Yet if going to deal in historical
parallels, perhaps we ought to strive for
consistency. Rome.s imperial-autocrats-in-the-making
never hesitated to shed blood, whether of their
compatriots or other nations: why should we imagine
our own to be more fastidious, or less Machiavellian?
Another motive for aversion may also be involved: the
fear of being mocked as a "conspiracy theorist" or
"tinfoil hat wearer," with a consequent loss of public
credibility and professional respect. If such a fear were
no more than what it seems, one might well ask what value
there could be to markers of professional standing
which block inquiry into historical truths and material
realities -- or what claims to courage or integrity
could be made by public intellectuals who fold
their tents at the mere threat of scurrilous
handling by opponents. But something more profound may be
at work. Peter Dale Scott, who like Chalmers Johnson
indulges in what he calls the "clichéd analogy"
of a comparison between the contemporary United
States and Rome in the period of its transition
from republic to imperial autocracy, remarks on
the refusal of the Roman senatorial class to accept
that "real power had migrated out of" the civic
institutions in which they continued to participate,
and had passed into the hands of "an imperial
regime, the armies and the courts of the army
commanders." Their motive, though unacknowledged, was
quite simple: "The self-respect of the senatorial
classes depended on this denial."

An analogous motive may be in play among our own
class of academics and public intellectuals, for
whom a migration of power into military,
deep-political, and corporate-media hands may for
similar reasons be difficult to acknowledge. István
Meszáros has proposed that we are currently facing not
merely a "conjunctural crisis" of the kind that
occurred at intervals over the past century, but
rather an all-embracing "structural crisis" -- one
which "affects the totality of a social complex" because
it throws into question "capital.s mode of social
metabolic reproduction" up to the ultimate limits of
"the established global structure."

It would be no novelty to argue that the Bush
regime.s military aggressions, together with its
evident contempt for the constraints of republican
governance (the Bill of Rights and habeas corpus among
them) and its ever- increasing reliance on
deep-political manipulations, are part of the
corporatist ruling elite.s response to this structural
crisis. Understandably enough, public intellectuals who
are habituated to conjunctural crises in which their
oppositional function was understood by all concerned,
and who have in addition made a lifelong habit of
ignoring or belittling political analyses which
incorporate deep-political factors, have resisted
the gathering evidence that these very factors have
been decisive in the political transformations
pushed through since 9/11. And yet counter-forces
are arguably at work against what Scott calls "the social
function of denial in masking political change." 29
One of them, intellectual integrity, though it might
seem a quaint abstraction to invoke in this
context, has yet impelled conservative academics and
public intellectuals like Paul Craig Roberts and
Morgan Reynolds (who in addition to their university
careers held senior positions in the Reagan and first
George W. Bush administrations, respectively) into
vehement opposition to the crimes of the present
regime. Both have written powerful analyses of the
present administration.s folly and criminality, and
both recognize the events of 9/11 as a key
element of that criminality. Another counter-force may
be a growing recognition of the delegitimizing power of
the 9/11 evidence.

Delegitimizing the Bush regime

When Joshua Frank says of the Bush regime that
"this administration, like so many before it, needs to
be stopped at once," I agree whole-heartedly with the
sentiment (although the modifying phrase seems
unfortunate: stopping the crimes of previous
administrations is now something only
time-travellers can hope to do).

Let.s pause, then, to think about how the current US
administration is to be stopped.

I would suggest that the concept of delegitimation
should figure importantly in our reflections. People
who have acquiesced in the actions of a
government may be persuaded to withdraw their support
and even to move into active opposition by evidence that
those actions have been ill-judged, rash, or
unprincipled. But evidence that a government has
acted in ways that unambiguously violate the
state.s foundational covenant -- in this case the US
Constitution and Bill of Rights -- and that
unambiguously sunder the ruling elite.s claims on the
consent and loyalty of citizens and the obedience of
state employees, whether civilian or military, cuts much
deeper. What is at stake in this case is the
legitimacy of the governing elite -- and also, to
the extent that people can recognize that elite.s
declinations from the nation.s foundational democratic
principles as systemic in nature, the legitimacy of the
system of corporatized governance that has made it
possible for such people to acquire and exercise power.
Since regular visitors to the websites of The
Centre for Research on Globalization, or of
Counterpunch, scarcely need to be told of the many
ways, from electoral fraud to the abolition of
habeas corpus, from unconstrained mendacity to
military aggression, in which the administration of
George W. Bush has demonstrated its illegitimacy, I.m not
going to rehearse them all here. But the evidence that on
every key aspect of the events of 9/11 the Bush
administration has lied, and that the official version of
what happened on 9/11 cannot stand up to critical
inquiry, does not simply necessitate the development of
alternative hypotheses: it also provides what must
be one of the strongest and most inescapable arguments
against this regime.s legitimacy.

For if the emerging evidence of what happened on 9/11 is
cogent enough to stand up in the face of the most
rigorous critical examination -- and a large part
of it demonstrably is -- the consequences for the
legitimacy of the Bush government are quite literally
shattering. If the government merely facilitated
this terrorist atrocity through neglect or
incompetence, then it abdicated its primary
responsibility to protect the lives and property of
its citizens. But if the evidence drives Americans to
suspect that senior government officials may have been
active parties in the catastrophic events of 9/11, and
quite possibly their primary organizers as well as
their most obvious beneficiaries, then the truly
appalling possibility is raised of a treasonous
perversion of state power resulting in mass murder. One
might well argue that only an independent and bona
fide criminal investigation could determine whether
the evidence supports such a hypothesis. But it
should be evident that officials whose actions are
believed by large numbers of people to merit criminal
investigation are well on their way to losing political

Rather than arguing in the abstract for the
delegitimizing power of the 9/11 evidence, let me
give a concrete example of it. Robert Bowman, a
retired USAF Lt. Colonel who holds a Ph.D. in
physics, was director of Advanced Space Program
Development for the USAF in the Ford and Carter
administrations. Here.s a part of what he had to say
as a speaker at the DC Emergency Truth Convergence
organized by the 9/11 Truth Movement in Washington, DC
in July, 2005:

You know, our freedoms are not under attack from the
remnants of Saddam Hussein.s Baathist party.
under attack by the likes of John Ashcroft,
trampled by Donald Rumsfeld, disdained by
Dick Cheney, and not even understood by George W.
Bush. The battle to preserve our freedoms is not
taking place in Baghdad and Tikrit and Fallujah.
It.s taking place in peace marches and demonstrations
in Girardelli Park in San Francisco, in Memorial Park
in Oklahoma City, and in Lafayette Park in Washington DC.
[...] We, my sisters and brothers, are protecting
this nation by speaking truth to power. [...]

And when we speak, this is the truth that we proclaim.
This war in Iraq has nothing to do with national
security, or freedom or democracy or human rights or
protecting our allies or weapons of mass
destruction or defeating terrorism or disarming Iraq.
It has to do with money, it has to do with oil, and it
has to do with raw imperial power. And it.s based
totally on lies. Those who forced this war on an
unwilling world are guilty of violating the US
Constitution, the UN Charter, the Nuremberg
principles, and international law. What they have
done is illegal, immoral, unconstitutional, and treason.

This cabal of neoconservatives from PNAC who
planned this war -- Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz,
Perle, Jeb Bush -- even before W. became president,
they told us why they had to do it. They said we need to
occupy Iraq permanently in order to dominate Iran,
Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the southern Russian republics
around the Caspian Sea. We need to control the entire
Middle East and all its oil. [..]

[T]hey knew the American people wouldn.t stand for it,
and they said so in their documents -- and they
said, unless there.s that new Pearl Harbor. Well,
9/11 did supply that -- and been lied to not
only about the war, but about 9/11 itself. They
ignored the warnings: more than that, we have mounting
evidence that -- at least -- they made it impossible for
those planes to be intercepted. If our government had
merely [done] nothing, and I say that as an old
interceptor pilot -- I know the drill, I know what it
takes, I know how long it takes, I know what the
procedures are, I know what they were, and I
know what changed them to -- if our
government had merely done nothing, and allowed normal
procedures to happen on that morning of 9/11, the Twin
Towers would still be standing and thousands of dead
Americans would still be alive. My sisters and brothers,
that is treason!

As a combat veteran, I will not stand idly by
and watch our security destroyed by a president who
went AWOL rather than serve in Vietnam. As one
who.s devoted his life to the security of this
country, I will not stand by and watch an appointed
president send our sons and daughters around the
world to kill Arabs for the oil companies. [...]
I joined the air force a long time ago to protect
our borders and our people, not the financial interests
of Folgers, Chiquita Banana, Exxon, and Halliburton. had enough corporate wars!

No more Iraqs, no more Kosovos, no more El
Salvadors, no more Colombias! These are not isolated
incidents of stupidity; part of a long,
bloody history of foreign policy being conducted
for the financial interests of the wealthy few. [...]

As a pilot who flew a hundred and one combat
missions in Vietnam, I swore to uphold the
Constitution of the United States against all
enemies, foreign and domestic -- and that includes
a renegade president! It.s time for George W.
Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice,
and the whole oil mafia to be removed from office and
indited for treason. 31


The 9/11 evidence is evidently for Bowman neither
isolated, nor inert, nor immobilizing. It forms part
of what he has come to understand (as he says in this
same speech) as "a new form of colonialism." Though
Bowman has been a forceful critic of Reagan.s "Star
Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative and subsequent
missile defense systems, and though his religious
commitments as a lay minister may also have exposed him
to forms of thought beyond the customary discursive range
of air force officers, one might guess that 9/11, which
he evidently believes to have been a planned catalyst in
the Bush regime.s project of oil geopolitics and
aggressive warfare, was also a catalyzing factor in
the development of his own understanding of "corporate
wars" and the "long, bloody history of foreign policy
being conducted for the financial interests of the
wealthy few."

As I have already noted, Bowman is not the only
conservative one-time senior member of the state
apparatus to have been jolted into open opposition by
9/11 and the other crimes of the current administration.

Perhaps it.s time that people on the left allowed
themselves to be jolted as well -- at the very least,
into an honest and painstaking analysis of the evidence.

this was excerpts from an article:

Into the Ring with Counterpunch on 9/11:

How Alexander Cockburn, Otherwise So Bright, Blanks Out
on 9/11 Evidence

by Michael Keefer Professor of English University of

December 4, 2006

full article on,9,0,0,1,0

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posted by u2r2h at 3:53 PM 0 comments