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After the Cataclysm (Political Economy of Human Rights, #2)

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Dissects the aftermath of the war in Southeast Asia, the refugee problem, the Vietnam/Cambodia conflict and the Pol Pot regime.


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Dissects the aftermath of the war in Southeast Asia, the refugee problem, the Vietnam/Cambodia conflict and the Pol Pot regime.

30 review for After the Cataclysm (Political Economy of Human Rights, #2)

  1. 4 out of 5

    sologdin

    As committed as the first volume, but shifting gears from ‘third world fascism’ in general to the attempt to reconstitute imperial authority in the wake of the failure of the subfascist system in Vietnam. The statement of purpose: the postwar condition of the three states of Indochina: Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia […] from mid-1975 to the end of 1978 […] a double focus: on Indochina itself and on the West (primarily the United States) in relation to Indochina. We will consider the facts about pos As committed as the first volume, but shifting gears from ‘third world fascism’ in general to the attempt to reconstitute imperial authority in the wake of the failure of the subfascist system in Vietnam. The statement of purpose: the postwar condition of the three states of Indochina: Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia […] from mid-1975 to the end of 1978 […] a double focus: on Indochina itself and on the West (primarily the United States) in relation to Indochina. We will consider the facts about postwar Indochina as they can be ascertained, but a major emphasis will be on the ways in which these facts have been interpreted, distorted, or modified by the ideological institutions of the West. (vii) Context of postwar Indochina is that the US’ unlawful attack “left the countries devastated, facing almost insuperable problems” (viii), including destruction of agricultural lands and the resettlement of most rural population in inadequate urban areas—a deliberate US policy of forcing the agricultural workforce out of the country via bombing, both as a demographic warfare and a means to disrupt the revolutionary organizations in each state. It is overall an outrage, both the initial crimes and the subsequent attempt to shift the responsibility from the US to its victims. There’s plenty more, but suffice to say that the US went halfway around the world and dropped more bombs on Indochina than were dropped by all belligerents in all theatres during World War II—and of course no Indochinese state dropped anything on the United States. So, yaknow—fuck off, worthless waste of space US jingos. There is no reasonable defense for the US on the jus ad bellum question. Chapters on the refugee crisis (49 ff.), Vietnam proper (61 ff.), and Laos (119 ff.). Nothing unexpected in these. Basic thesis is that the US fucked everything up, and then lied about it. Duh? The reason anyone reads this book these days, if indeed they do in fact read, is the 6th chapter, regarding Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge, which constitutes approximately half the volume. The rightwing position has generally been that authors herein deny that genocide occurred in Cambodia 1975-79. This position is not borne out by the text. That is to say, those who think that this text denies genocide are either liars or illiterate. For “in the case of Cambodia, there is no difficulty in documenting major atrocities” (135). However “the sources of the policies of the postwar Cambodian regime in historical experience, traditional culture, Khmer nationalism, or internal social conflict have been passed by in silence as the propaganda machine gravitates to the evils of a competitive socioeconomic system so as to establish its basic principle that ‘liberation’ by ‘Marxists’ is the worst fate that can befall any people under Western dominance” (136). Although Cambodia became “the most extensively reported Third world country in US journalism” (id.), US journalism liked “to pretend that their lone and courageous voice of protest can barely be heard, or alternatively that controversy is raging about events in postwar Cambodia” (id.). A “common device” in this propaganda process is to complain that antiwar activists “‘had better explain’ why there had been a bloodbath, or ‘concede’ that their ‘support for the Communists’—the standard term for opposition to US subversion and aggression—was wrong; it is the critics who must, it is claimed, shoulder the responsibility for the consequences of US intervention, not those who organized and supported it or concealed the facts concerning it” (138). These seem like familiar rhetorical maneuvers for more recent atrocities management. The commonly noted 2.5M dead from a 7M population appears to have first been alleged by George McGovern in Congress during 1978 (only Nixon can go to China, indeed) (see 138). His source for the figure at that early date (when “Cambodia had been almost entirely closed to the West” except for refugees (135)) is a State Department hack (138) and thence Lon Nol, CIA stooge and reliable subfascist (139). Refugee reports are the main substantive evidence for the Khmer genocide—“or to be more precise, from accounts of journalists and others of what refugees are alleged to have said” (140). Much thoughtful commentary on how refugee testimony is to be handled in general (140 ff.). Thereafter much detailed interrogation of not merely refugee reports, but the processes through which refugee reports were produced—such as how Thai refugee “camp authorities had organized French and English speaking refugees as informants to give the official line to journalists who came to visit” (146) or how “competent researchers fluent in Khmer” were denied entry to Thai refugee camps (147). One topos of this text is to suggest that the “gang of thugs” thesis may not be entirely correct, and that, rather, many persons were killed in Cambodia not only by US bombs, and the starvation concomitant with the destruction of the Khmer economy by same, but also by “a peasant army, recruited and driven out of their devastated villages by US bombs and then taking revenge against the urban civilization that they regarded, not without reason, as a collaborator in their destruction” (150), which fits the known primitivist components of Khmer Rouge policy (which components are inconsistent with basic Marxist ideas, of course). This thesis makes some sense, considering that the Khmer Rouge “took over at a time when society was in ruins, so that there were no normal means of government” (153). There were certainly estimates of deaths at the time contrary to McGovern/Lon Nol, such as the 1977 US report that Cambodia had suffered several hundred thousand deaths from all causes, “a marked shift from the estimates just six months ago, when it was popular to say that anywhere between 800,000 and 1.4 million Cambodians had been executed by vengeful Communists” (159). Holbrooke, US thug extraordinaire, estimated “tens if not hundreds of thousands of deaths from all causes” (id.). The objective of the text here is not, in 1979, to deny that killings occurred in Cambodia—quite the contrary. The thesis is that the refugees reports and analyses of causation and estimates of quantum were highly varied in the late 70s, precisely because Cambodia was shut away, and therefore that US estimates of a Cambodian centrally-coordinated autogenocide were unwarranted at the time on the basis of the available evidence, that the ideological imperative was to assume a genocide, as one had been predicted for Vietnam and had failed to materialize. Much of the analysis proceeds by comparison with the situation in East Timor, wherein US ally Indonesia at the same time was killing approximately the same proportion of East Timorese as alleged to have been killed in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge—to more or less complete silence in the US. Standard manner of analysis here:And there is good reason why Aikman fails to mention the names of those ‘political theorists’ who have defended ‘the Cambodian tragedy’—as this would require differentiating those who have exposed media distortions and tried to discover the facts, instead of joining the bandwagon of uncritical abuse, from those who say that no serious atrocities have occurred (a small or non-existent set that Time has searched for, apparently without success). (164) The Time article alleges that the genocide is “the logical consequence of an atheistic, man-centered system of values, enforced by fallible human beings with total power, who believe, with Marx, that morality is whatever the powerful define it to be” (165). Eww? Much analysis of the basic postwar books (Ponchaud, Barron-Paul, &c.) that were put forward in the US, as well as some accounts that were not emphasized or ignored, as well as interpretations of these items by others. The details all suggest that something awful happened in Cambodia, of course—but the quantum and causation, as always, are subject to reasonable dispute in 1979. And of course the rightwing texts are in for critique here: Barron’s “diverse sources” are for instance revealed to be “specialists at the State and Defense Departments, the National Security Council, and three unnamed embassies in Washington” (243). Ponchaud’s text, for example, also has defects, such as how “this was one of the areas where the worst atrocities were later reported, and where Khmer Rouge control is said to have been very limited” (275). One interesting comment, from visitor Francois Rigaux in 1978: “He notes, however, that the conditions described with horror by many of the refugees (which he believes have ‘considerably improved’) are ‘those of the majority of the Khmer peasants, conditions of which [the refugees] were unaware during the period when their privilege permitted them to keep a distance’ from the lives of the poor” (198). Another visitor (Dudman) noted that Cambodia was “one huge work camp, but its people were clearly not being worked to death and starved to death as foreign critics have charged” (208)—the rationale was that the cities were emptied, brutally, by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 in order to counteract the forced urbanization caused by the US bombs—in order to get isolated Cambodia back into agricultural production, lest everyone starve after the US very predictably cut off foreign aid when its client Lon Nol was ousted. Another analyst (Chandler) “stressed again how one-sided is the information available from refugees—by definition, those disaffected with the regime” (212). Atop all of the indeterminacy of the moment in 1979, there is the plain objective of the US in this theatre: the Kissinger-Nixon policy during the last two years of the war was ‘a major mystery,’ for which [one Vickery] suggests an explanation that appears to us quite plausible. Referring to the ‘Sonnenfeldt Doctrine,’ which holds that ‘pluralistic and libertarian Communist regimes will breed leftist ferment in the West,’ he suggests that ‘when it became clear [to US leaders] that they could not win in Cambodia, they preferred to do everything possible to insure that the post-war revolutionary government be extremely brutal, doctrinaire, and frightening to its neighbors, rather than a moderate socialism to which the Thai, for example, might look with envy. (218) There follows analysis of multiple statements in the 1970s from US analysts (and officials) regarding the linkage of 250,000 tons of bombs and “placing a small country’s physical and political survival in escrow for many years” (219). Quinn’s report for the National Security Council links the increase in bombs in 1973 with an increase in brutality in the countryside (220). Regarding the ongoing presentation here of their “theory of the Free Press”:we see that there are conflicting reports of all these events. Swain and Schanberg present their views in the London Sunday Times and New York Times; the Tarrs and Boyle give their conflicting account in News from Kampuchea (international circulation 500) and the left wing New York Guardian, also with a tiny reading public. The detailed participant account by the Tarrs of the actual evacuation from Phnom Penh as they perceived it, which is quite unique, is not so much as mentioned in the mass media; their reports appeared without distortion, they claim, only in tiny left wing journals in New Zealand. Boyle reports that AP refused to publish his stories when he had taken over their bureau, choosing instead accounts of atrocities that neither he, nor French doctors or nurses, nor Cambodian AP staffers could verify. But there is no censorship in the Free Press, such as we find in totalitarian states. (239) Ultimately, authors note that their own analysis should be considered as provisional as they consider the rightwing writings to be: “When the facts are in, it may well turn out that the more extreme condemnations were in fact correct” (293). This however “in no way alter the conclusions we have reached on the central question to be addressed here: how the available facts were selected, modified, or sometimes invented to create a certain image offered to the general population” (id.). Concludes by offering ‘principles’ of the ‘Free Press’— 1) “averting the eyes from benign or constructive terror” (295); 2) “intense and dedicated search for nefarious terror, which can be brought into focus without giving offense to any important groups and which contributes to domestic ideological mobilizing” (id.) (with the sub-principle that “useful myths, once successfully instituted, are virtually immune to correction” (id.); and 3) “agent transference,” wherein “the critical role of the United States in maintaining internecine conflict from 1954, and its more direct shattering of the Indochinese societies and their economic foundations, is acknowledged only occasionally and as an afterthought. The only ‘agents’ to whom responsibility is indignantly attributed for the suffering in Indochina are the new regimes that came into power in a presumably normal environment in 1975” (296). Fair to say, then, that this text is as much about the practice of journalism in the US regarding US foreign policy as it is about the actual results of that policy. Volume I focused more on the policy itself, whereas this volume is much more about the presentation of the results of policy through the althusserian journalism ISA. It is difficult to contest those critiques of US journalism, even if we're on board with the most extreme estimates of the Cambodian genocide (inclusive of the simplistic "gang of thugs" causation thesis) though the virtue of 20/20 hindsight. Text is prophetic and self-reflexive insofar as "the alleged views of critics of the propaganda barrage who do exist are known primarily through ritual denunciation rather than direct exposure" (136), as the anti-Chomsky texts that take up this volume are always already fatally defective.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Domhnall

    In this detailed exposure of what would now be called “fake news,” Chomsky and Herman are not motivated by a desire to induce cynicism or nihilism in their readers, nor to induce despair in the face of terrifying odds. Instead, they display a passionate conviction that the search for Truth can be sustained and that the power of lies will turn to dust in the light of serious investigation. There is no single cause for the misery and oppression we find in every part of the world. But there are som In this detailed exposure of what would now be called “fake news,” Chomsky and Herman are not motivated by a desire to induce cynicism or nihilism in their readers, nor to induce despair in the face of terrifying odds. Instead, they display a passionate conviction that the search for Truth can be sustained and that the power of lies will turn to dust in the light of serious investigation. There is no single cause for the misery and oppression we find in every part of the world. But there are some major causes, and some of these are close at hand and subject to our influence and, ultimately, our control. These factors and the social matrix in which they are embedded will engage the concern and efforts of people who are honestly committed to alleviate human suffering and to contribute to freedom and justice. [p344] This particular volume deals with Indochina in the years following America’s wars there, but it is concerned less with an account of the way those countries dealt with the aftermath of the wars and more with an analysis of the way Western media described the situation to their American and other Western audiences. We have not developed or expressed our views here on the nature of the Indochinese regimes. To assess the contemporary situation in Indochina and the programs of the current ruling groups is a worthwhile endeavour, but it has not been our objective. [p344] Our primary concern here is not to establish the facts with regards to postwar Indochina, but rather to investigate their refraction through the prism of Western ideology, a very different task. We will consider the kinds of evidence used by the media and those naive enough to place their faith in them, and the selection of evidence from what is available. [p160] One amusing comment often repeated on social media is that if the USA had lost the War of Independence against the tyranny of the British empire, they might instead have ended up resembling Canada; the implication is usually that this outcome might have been preferable. For Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, the alternative option which the USA deployed such astonishing firepower to enforce on their peasant populations was the violently oppressive “sub-fascism” of America’s client regimes in Thailand, Indonesia or the Phillipines, or those of Latin America. Since these options would be appalling to any objective observer, it was important to the Americans to convince the world that the people of Indochina were suffering dreadfully under their “communist” postwar regimes, while diverting attemtion entirely from the grim record of their own supposedly capitalist (actually fascist) clients. Now that the countries of Indochina have been pounded to dust, Western ideologists are less fearful of the demonstration effect of successful communism and exults in the current willingness of the Western satellites of ASEAN to cooperate in “peaceful competition”. In the London Observer Gavin Young reports on ASEAN’s program of obliterating Communism “not with bombs but with prosperity”, under the leadership of the smiling humanitarian Marcos, Lee Kuan Yew, Suharto, Hussein Onn of Malaysis and General Kriangsak of Thailand (with his “dark, puckish face, at once warm-hearted and mischievous”) and are now firmly set to eradicate the ills of their societies, as Young discovered when he interviewed them on their gold courses. ... Imagine what the reaction would be in the West to a featured article in the press explaining how wondrous Asian communism is becoming, based exclusively on interviews with Kim Il-Sung, Pol Pot, etc. [p13] So then, this books offers an intensive review of the way Western media [mis]reported on post war Indochina, supported with comprehensive evidence, and indeed the technical footnotes comprise a good quarter of the book’s volume. While this is not unreadable it is probably better described as a reference source than a popular history. I read through all the same because I have yet to find a comparable account in more accessible form.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David Steece, Jr.

    Mind-blowing. Along with Volume 1, The Washington Connection, this is Chomsky's masterpiece (and Herman's? altho I haven't read any of Herman's "solo" work tbh); its also his most controversial work, by far, the one that provoked cries of genocide-denial from Establishment critics and is still frequently brought up to besmirch Chomsky's overwhelmingly meticulous scholarship. The funny thing is, the authors don't actually deny that a genocide is taking place. In fact, the book isn't really about C Mind-blowing. Along with Volume 1, The Washington Connection, this is Chomsky's masterpiece (and Herman's? altho I haven't read any of Herman's "solo" work tbh); its also his most controversial work, by far, the one that provoked cries of genocide-denial from Establishment critics and is still frequently brought up to besmirch Chomsky's overwhelmingly meticulous scholarship. The funny thing is, the authors don't actually deny that a genocide is taking place. In fact, the book isn't really about Cambodia. Instead, the book is about the American propaganda system, comparing the use of evidence for Cambodian bloodbaths as opposed to bloodbaths in friendly countries like Indonesia. They explicitly say, multiple times, that the worst estimates of deaths may be accurate, and that there may be some as-of-yet undiscovered evidence of centralized planning. However, and the more important point for their central issue, authoritative, verifiable evidence simply did not exist when the NYT, the WaPo, and even more liberal pubs like the New York Review of Books were professing 2 million dead in an auto-genocide that was 100% centrally planned by 9 men with absolutely no popular support amongst ordinary Cambodians. As Chomsky and Herman show, this extreme view was not supported by the contemporary evidence. Makes me want to read many other books on the DRK, like: Brother Number One: A Political Biography Of Pol Pot and A Cambodian Prison Portrait. One Year in the Khmer Rouge's S-21 To get more information on the actual atrocities, of which a) there were many and b) the US still bears a large responsibility due to the barbaric, semi-genocidal bombing of Cambodia, particularly in 1973.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Lever

    Meticulously written, full of information, and containing detailed references. In its pages, every reader will find some activity that has a visible and intimate connection to her/his own life. The details of how the press is controlled are frightening. This is a fantastic piece of work.

  5. 5 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    Three stars for its rather dated assertions and five stars for the always reassuring Chomskyian logic of conduct and conscience. The references and citations to American media machinations to show only one side of the at-the-time unceasing conflicts in southeast Asia get tedious and it's easy to get bogged down in the detail. C/H's assertions on the iffiness of the extent of the Cambodian genocide, later corrected somewhat by Chomsky himself, aside, the real gem here is the profuse and unswervin Three stars for its rather dated assertions and five stars for the always reassuring Chomskyian logic of conduct and conscience. The references and citations to American media machinations to show only one side of the at-the-time unceasing conflicts in southeast Asia get tedious and it's easy to get bogged down in the detail. C/H's assertions on the iffiness of the extent of the Cambodian genocide, later corrected somewhat by Chomsky himself, aside, the real gem here is the profuse and unswerving dedication to showing up how the media ass-lickery and pandering to the US government's official line is pretty much the worst thing ever. Views counter to establishment opinion are largely ignored, as C/H demonstrate to exhausting lengths, and the real issue--that the chaos and murderous clime of Indochina was largely due to the US and its indiscriminate carpet bombing while standing aside afterwards crying "humanitarianism" while blockading aid and arming the shit out of other stripes of murderers--is what matters here.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Thiessen

    One of his most interesting books, but at times seems like it isn't very readable. Tough slug through. One of his most interesting books, but at times seems like it isn't very readable. Tough slug through.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Clarifies the sense that news is a performance in the sense that it can be a fiction shaped by the needs of the powerful - it makes you feel helpless to a degree, especially now in 2019 - disturbingly relevant.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shin Furuya

  9. 5 out of 5

    David

  10. 4 out of 5

    Simon Wood

  11. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  12. 5 out of 5

    Droydicus Malojan

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marek Vermin

  14. 4 out of 5

    C

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence A

  16. 5 out of 5

    James Perry

  17. 5 out of 5

    Wertz

  18. 4 out of 5

    John Jacob

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brad

  20. 5 out of 5

    Taylor

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tom Blackburn

  22. 4 out of 5

    Trashcanman

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cprusik

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lewis Hamilton

  25. 5 out of 5

    Deodorant Thief

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mirza Sultan-Galiev

  27. 5 out of 5

    Johnny Wimmer

  28. 5 out of 5

    Eire Stewart

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sean

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Monaco

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