The Left

Pilger, Chomsky, Cambodia and Iraq

In 1979, shortly after the ouster of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, John Pilger arrived in that ravaged and traumatized country. It affected him profoundly, as it would almost any sentient human being. In an aritcle about a new film documenting the horrors of that regime, Pilger writes:

I walked along a narrow dirt road at the end of which was a former primary school called Tuol Sleng. During the Pol Pot years it was run by a kind of gestapo, “S21”, which divided the classrooms into a “torture unit” and an “interrogation unit”. I found blood and tufts of hair still on the floor, where people had been mutilated on iron beds. Some 17,000 inmates had died a kind of slow death here: a fact not difficult to confirm because the killers photographed their victims before and after they tortured and killed them at mass graves on the edge of the city. Names and ages, height and weight were recorded. One room was filled to the ceiling with victims’ clothes and shoes, including those of many children.

Pilger is careful to blame the Americans for creating the conditions which led to the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975. There is more truth to this than many of us want to acknowledge– although he goes over top in Pilgeresque fashion when he writes, “What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot completed.”

It was the Vietnamese, Pilger reminds us, who drove Pol Pot from power. He does not mention that the Vietnamese “liberators” and their puppet Heng Samrin were themselves responsible for perhaps hundreds of thousands of deaths on top of the millions murdered by the Khmer Rouge. But then, few people do.

Which brings us to the recent interview in which Pilger was asked if he thought the anti-war movement should be supporting Iraq’s anti-occupation resistance. He responded:

Yes, I do. We cannot afford to be choosy. While we abhor and condemn the continuing loss of innocent life in Iraq, we have no choice now but to support the resistance, for if the resistance fails, the “Bush gang” will attack another country. If they succeed, a grievous blow will be suffered by the Bush gang.

That is to say: Pilger apparently aprroved of the Vietnamese military campaign against Pol Pot, even though it installed a regime which– while not as genocidal as the Khmer Rouge– was far more brutal than the post-Saddam occupation of Iraq. He certainly did not advocate support for the remnants of the Khmer Rouge fighting against the Vietnamese occupation (which lasted about 10 years). And yet the ouster of a world-class murderer like Saddam Hussein (not in the same league as Pol Pot, but no slouch) provokes in Pilger nothing more than support for those who want to restore Saddam’s Baathist regime. Because choosiness is not an option.

I will grant Pilger this: he looked unblinkingly at the evidence of Pol Pot’s genocide and reported what he saw. Which is more than one can say for his fellow “anti-imperialist” Noam Chomsky. In 1977, at the height of the atrocities, Chomsky co-authored an article in The Nation trying to minimize reports of mass slaughter by the Khmer Rouge.

I believe the estimates of up to 2 million killed by Pol Pot’s forces– which Chomsky tried to discredit– are now generally accepted as accurate.

(By the way, that article– a devastating example of Chomsky’s willful wrong-headedness– is preserved for posterity on the web site of his friends at Z magazine. Any guesses why?)