Why Do Historians Ignore Noam Chomsky?


Mr. Summers teaches social studies at Harvard University.

Noam Chomsky has written more than 30 books over the last three decades. Yet neither the Journal of American History, nor the American Historical Review, nor Reviews in American History has reviewed them. If the journals had overlooked one or two of Chomsky's books, then the omissions might not rise to the status of a problem, and could be attributed to a combination of reasons each of them incidental to Chomsky himself. If the journals had in fact devoted attention to him, but the preponderance of the attention had been hostile, then they might stand accused of harboring a bias. This is the most respectable way to disagree about such matters. But the journals have not done enough to deserve the accusation. They have not reviewed a single one of his books. Chomsky is one of most widely read political intellectuals in the world. Academic history pretends he does not exist.

Why is this so?

A moment's reflection rules out the easiest explanations. No formal policy could have held up against multiple changes in the editorships of the journals. Even a tacit conspiracy is unthinkable given the upheavals of the last three decades. The journals have absorbed, presented, and guided an explosion of historical writing, and their formal commitment to intellectual pluralism has remained intact. As the editor of the Journal of American History wrote in 2004, "Through our book reviews, we aim to serve as the journal of record for American history."

Is Chomsky left out because he writes about topics of little interest to historians? His books contain arresting arguments about the history of the Cold War, genocide, terrorism, democracy, international affairs, nationalism, social policy, public opinion, health care, and militarism, and this merely begins the list. He ranges across the Americas, Europe, and Asia, paying special attention to the emergence of the United States. Two of his major themes, namely, the "rise of the West" in the context of comparative "global history," are also major areas of interest for professional historians, never more so than today.

Is Chomsky left out because he is not a professional historian? The journals have reviewed such nonhistorians as Robert Bellah, Randall Collins, Michel Foucault, Clifford Geertz, Nathan Glazer, Irving Howe, Seymour Martin Lipset, Richard Rorty, Edward Said, Garry Wills, and John Updike because the books in question show a strong historical component. Chomsky, in any case, presents his evidence with an extensive record of citation, and keeps the rhetorical content of his writings extremely low.

Is Chomsky left out because he does not divorce his politics from his history? Academic historians often use their skills as instruments of political abuse and intimidation, as Sean Wilentz did in his testimony before Congress a few years ago, or as David Landes did in a letter to the New York Times in 2000, in which he wrote, "If Mr. Nader thinks people will forget that he has been willing to bring grave harm to his country, he is in for a big surprise." If this sort of thing made acceptable grounds for exclusion from the community of scholars, few historians would have learned to honor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who is, manifestly, a liberal historian. A profession that made the divorce of politics and history a condition of entry would have packed away Schlesinger, Landes, and Wilentz in disgrace a long time ago. Professional history does not (and should not) do anything of the kind. The same point holds with only slightly less force in the case of Henry Kissinger. Reviews in American History, having passed up all opportunities to review Chomsky's books, described Kissinger's Diplomacy (1994) as "a masterful, brilliant, and provocative account of world politics and American foreign policy from Cardinal Richelieu to the end of the Cold War."

Schlesinger's liberalism mirrors the dominant ideological gestures in history writing. But to stop here would be to dump the whole question into the realm of biases. It would be to employ a loose sociology of knowledge to argue that the journals serve some ideologies to the exclusion of other ideologies. The trouble with this explanation is that the journals in fact have become open to ideas that claim to have surpassed liberalism: postcolonalism, poststructuralism, and so on. More to the point, they have not been shy in throwing open their pages to Marxism. Why Eric Hobsbawm, but not Noam Chomsky?

I suspect the answer lies less with Chomsky's arguments, and still less with his professional status, than with his intentions. The history of liberalism and Marxism in the academy has been the history of a science of concepts. The main responsibility of the liberal or Marxist intellectual, accordingly, has been to discover new material, which involves correcting and recorrecting biases in past scholarship, a sort of intellectual forensics. The science of concepts not only parallels the development of institutions; it requires their continual enlargement and aggrandizement. All this should be obvious from the fact that liberal and Marxist historians have conquered institutional power and prestige across the country, have effected a virtual monopoly on serious intellectual discussion.

Chomsky's anarchist interpretation of responsibility points elsewhere. "It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies." The contrast is not mutually exclusive. Yet one cannot read Chomksy's books and easily conclude that truth is something to be surrounded by a gang of concepts, or driven into specialized routines or "think tanks" (a phrase which ought to discredit itself in the presence of a mind awake.) He does not say, with the post-liberal historians, that academic intellectuals need a whole new vocabulary to understand reality. He does not think of historical writing as a pathway to power, tenure, faculty club dinners, fund-raising, or anything else of this sort. He does not leave a clear idea of power in view, in part because his anarchism teaches him to view social status as a form of domination.

This explanation might be crude, but it suggests how the current generation of professional historians, many of them beginning in the restless mood of the 1960s and 1970s, have fitted themselves so effortlessly into the hierarchical arrangements of academic life. They have liberalized it to include once-marginalized social groups, but have done very little to reverse the repression of labor power. Today, the difference between a free professional and a university employee has been erased. History's professional societies preside over a structure of domination far greater in its scope and power than at any time in the past.

Whatever the cause, the consequences have impoverished us all. The isolation forces Chomsky to meet tests of personality few contemporary figures are asked to meet. Everything from the tone of his writings to the recesses of his biography come up for harsh review. His critic finds a factual error and meets it with a cry of "aha!" Or if no factual errors are at hand the critic cries "too simple," and instead of engaging in research and discussion that might give the argument more nuance or variety, the critic stops reading altogether. Accreditation, not argument, likewise dominates the reaction of the followers. They become attracted to Chomsky because of his isolation, and impute to him quasi-magical qualities. (A glance at his published interviews will indicate how frequently he attempts to discourage his cult-like following.)

The journals, by excluding one of the most influential voices in contemporary political discussion, betray a selective commitment to intellectual freedom. For one of the lessons we have learned from those post-liberal ideas is that censorship involves subtle relationships between culture and social processes. Silence can be produced and sustained as easily as argument.

The profession's recovery of principle is not the only reason for putting a halt to its exclusion of Chomsky. Many of the articles and reviews in the journals lack vital connections to human responsibilities. They meet the demand for "relevance" without posing the question, relevant to what? It is the misfortune of liberal and Marxist historians to be writing in the age of conservative ascendency. For decades they have managed the ideological interests of parties close to power, only to discover, belatedly, that their metaphysics of progress have betrayed them. They grind down their concepts into finer and finer points, narrow inquiry into specialties and more specialities. In forsaking the fields of intelligence for the technologies of reason, however, they produce an effluvia of permanent surrender. Probably so many young people find Chomsky bracing and invigorating because so much else in our intellectual culture is passionless and purposeless.

The point is not that Chomsky is free of faults, or that he is correct in his interpretations, or that my explanations are adequate to the problem posed. The burden here is merely to articulate a warrant for his inclusion in the pages the leading journals in history. Perhaps one big forum on "Chomsky and the History of American Foreign Policy" would establish good faith and spur mutual enlightenment. Who could not fail to learn something from a debate between Chomsky and John Lewis Gaddis?


A version of this article previously appeared at Counterpunch.com.

Related Links:

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Russell Peter Willmoth - 8/2/2008

My contribution to this is simply to state the position of Dr Laura Summers - I was a student of hers in the 1970s and she was a 100% supporter of the Khmer Rouge and a consistant denier of the Khmer Rouge atrocities. She consistantly portrayed the deaths at the time as being all caused by the Vietnamese army who tried blame the innocent Khmer Rouge.

James C Moore - 1/2/2008

Here here, Mr. Monaco. When it comes to "facts", you are the last man standing. I've had many similar experiences. We love our prejudices more than anything.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Mr. Thomin,

If you emulate Mr. Friedman, you are bound to tie yourself in all sorts of knots:

1) I DID read your post (see below re your grammatical errors) since YOU appear to be in denial about what YOU wrote.

2) It will not kill you to admit a mistake, rather than lash out at the slightest criticism

3) Thoughtful and adult commenters manage to put all on their responses into one posting at at time. It is a basic Kindergarten common courtesy of taking turns, one at a time, so maybe I should say “grade school” rather than “adult”.

4) If you are indeed aware that the Soviet Union exists only in the past, then you ought not to use present tense as you do three times (capitalized for emphasis) in discussing Chomsky:

“...He IS not a citizen of the Soviet Union- simply; he DOES not afford the Soviet government with any monetary gain...

"...it is only natural that his books should surround this topic, and not the atrocities of the Soviet Union, which most Americans are aware of to begin with and who DO not have the slightest bit of control over..."

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I do not disagree that Chomsky's comments are "worth thinking about and thinking through", but other people ranging from Paul Krugman to Pat Buchanan to Michael Moore make comments in similar veins yet nobody whines about those guys not being widely discussed or published in history journals. To be a recognized historian, professional or otherwise, one needs to display a consistent ability to provide well-researched and open-minded insights about the past, not just use the past, cleverly, selectively and often misleadingly, for present agendas.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I will reinforce the point already made: that Chomsky's undeniable credentials as an intellectual and writer do not in any way qualify him as an historian. All good historians are in some sense articulate intellectuals, but to assume the converse is absurd.

As for Iraq, I am not up on Chomsky's latest spin, but I see no contradiction between governments in other countries disagreeing with the Bush Administration's policies and yet being afraid to challenge them. For a more ridiculous example of such timid disapproval, look at the spineless Democrats in the U.S. Senate, rubber-stamping (with a few noteworthy exceptions) a cast of cover-up appointees who should be on trial in a court of law for their crimes and negligence re aiding and abetting Al Qaeda, authorizing torture, etc. If Democrats had committed the sort of crass incompetence and helped underwrite the blatant violations of American traditions and norms of morality that Rice and Gonzalez had, do you suppose Republicans (who wasted years screaming about Clinton's sex life) would let them off with a few timid backside-covering confirmation questions ?

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Chomsky indeed has a lot to answer for. So does Cohn. His longwinded diatribe suggests only that Chomsky is an unscrupulous egotist, not that he is a holocaust denier.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The notion that Chomsky denies the Holocaust is highly implausible at best. He may have the requisite lack of moral scruples, but that proves nothing. Dershowitz, for example, made millions helping an obvious murderer evade justice, but that does not mean he is himself an apologist for murder.

Holocaust denial would be out of character for Chomsky, and there is clear lack of motive for him, especially given the large audiences he already enjoys on his dozens of other pet peeves.

The fact that some posters here are capable of executing an elemental google search, posting the web garbage thereby dredged up into a comment, and hitting "submit", is, however an excellent reason for excluding Chomsky's deceptive if witty utterances from serious consideration by serious historians. One has to draw the line somewhere. Disjointed, semi-coherent and highly unrepresentative fragments of rumor and hints of scandal are a far cry from credible historical evidence.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

It is one thing for historians 80+ years later to ignore the roles of Goldman or Luxemburg in the HISTORY of radicalism. It is quite another thing to complain that the American Historical Association did not publish articles by those authors AT THE TIME (circa 1917) - as I presume it did not - or publicize them because of their supposed contribution as HISTORIANS.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"This is why I say "polemicist" "

And I said, playing "loose with facts"

Chris Petit: I respect your views on international law but think you should save your powder here. Chomsky does not need your defending and cannot become a historian by virtue of intellectual fervor. Mr. Safranski, for once, is actually right on.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I don't know why you should be annoyed Mr. Monaco, but you certainly seem confused.

Luxemburg and Goldman were not considered to be historians because they were not historians. Amateur vs professional has absolutely nothing to do with whether their or Chomsky's or any other writings are history. For the umpteenth time, not every important writer or important historical figure is a historian. Most are obviously not.

Osama bin Laden is very important to American politics, but that does not mean he is an American politician.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

If you would like to come down off your high horse and discuss history, please begin by giving citations (something historians do) to the various articles which you believe indicate that all these various figures "wrote history", and while you're at it, a reference to the glowing reviews (you allude to) of Updike as a contributor to historiography.

There may be some kind of a gray area which Chomsky might, in some fashion, occasionally stray into. THAT would be worth a bit of closer scrutiny, unlike the silly ideas floating around here: that he is a victim of anti-Marxist bias in the history profession or is shunned because he is closet holocaust denier.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Chomsky is, of course, a linguist not an historian, but as an entertaining intellectual tackling the fashionable issues of the day, his absence from history journals has other grounds.

I have heard Chomsky numerous times on the radio, and have read a few of his pieces on line. He is glib, witty, and opinionated. He also plays recklessly loose with facts, especially historical facts, and that is most probably why real historians don't take him seriously as an historian. There are plenty of neo-Marxist ideas floating around history journals: it is indeed possible to hold some Marxist ideas without being a charlatan and BSer, but not quite obviously not if you are Chomsky.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


I have no scorecard or diary, just remembered impressions, and I have not encountered him very recently. Perhaps it is a dislike of selective and biased "framing" as much as a distasteful recollection of misstatements of fact. Chomsky is on some of the "alternative" radio programs and in newspaper columns from time to time, where I have inadvertently run across him. My approach towards him is roughly that which has often been advocated here on HNN (though not by me): If you don't care for the author, don't read his page. My impressions have nothing to do with disagreeing with his overall conclusions. When I have listened in, I have actually agreed with his general points 60-70% of the time.

If he were talking about linguistics I would feel more inclined to pay attention to him. On the other hand, I would say in partial defense of him that -unlike Daniel Pipes, for instance- he is not incessantly on HNN warping the daylights out of history as part of insidious agenda of deceptive fearmongering. Chomksy's is a more laid-back, dead-pan form of BS.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The above post is a good example of why a real history news website is needed (unlike the bogus scandal, fad and propaganda-laden HNN):

The USSR ceased to exist 13 years ago ! To refer repeatedly to it in the present tense, as Mr. Thomin does, can only suggest either a need for much more frequent (and rudimentary) commentary from Chomsky on linguistics (where he IS a world-class expert) and thereby proportionately less from him re U.S. foreign policy (where he is a glib but rank amateur) or the need for a remedial high-school course in 20th century history, or both.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Chomsky is NOT "widely read and widely respected" by historians "outside the United States", and for the same general reason his work does not appear heavily in journals, outside his main field, within the U.S.: He uses/abuses history selectively, for rhetorical and deliberately polemical purposes. He is not interested in studying it objectively to dispassionately illuminate current concerns.

That is where the similarity to "other authors named in the article" breaks down. The "others" who ARE favored with inclusion in history journals are for the most part EITHER fully-credentialed historians with a deeply biased political agenda (like Schlesinger) OR non-historians but with an rigorous intellectual agenda (like Foucauldt) rather than a sensationalistic and partisan orientation. Chomsky is 0 for 2. He has neither a scientific/intellectual mission, nor a track record as a historian. He dabbles, he takes pot shots, he hones in hot subjects, and he puts on a good show. He enriches the culture, the way Michael Moore or Rush Limbaugh do. Their followers do not insist on academic honors for such stimulating grandstanding. Chomsky’s should not either.

It is somewhat a matter of degree, I suppose. In a somewhat similar fashion, G.W. Bush is not as mentally incompetent as Reagan, as arrogantly stubborn as LBJ, or as crooked as Nixon, but he lacks any of their divergent ameliorating traits. He is not down-to-earth and folksy like Reagan, not as pragmatic as LBJ, and not as shrewdly visionary as Nixon. He is not off-the-charts into unacceptability on any one trait: it is the total overall package that adds up to a unprecedented disgrace. At least Chomsky is not selling his soul in order to outdo his father as a wielder of political power.

Alex L Munro - 5/14/2006

I am conducting a study into the Khmer Rouge, and the nature of their actions in Cambodia. However, more important to my study (it is primarily focused on historiography) is the conflicting opinions of a wide range of scholars, and how these have been able to develop.

My understanding of the whole issue i have to admit is rather basic. My research into this topic has been rather extensive, yet it seems that alot of this debate has branched off into further debate about the validity or inadequacy of the comments of Noam Chomsky. As i feel like i am only catching on the end of a long running debate between, somewhat bitterly, divided historical camps, i would appreciate anyone who could briefly sketch the source of this conflict. ONe aspect which has left me profoundly confused (although it is probably quite embarrassing to admit it) is at what point and in what context did these polarised viewpoints (the STAV and its critics) emerge? I know that Chomsky and Herman, do not sit neatly on any one side of this debate, yet what i am unclear on is if both these scholars, and those who they have often been affiliated with (the 'apologists'), continue to deny the or 'play down' the atrocities of the khmer rouge, or were these arguments presented in the context of the 1970's and reviewed later?? is there today a general scholarly concensus on Cambodia that favours a view of the Khmer Rouge as responsible for genocidal acts (or at least mass murder) or one which views much of the reported actions of the Khmer Rouge to be invented or exaggerated by the western Media, and governents such as the US preoccupied with emphasising the atrocities of thier enemies? I know i seem dreadfully naive in my understanding of this subject, yet i would very much like to investigate this issue further. It seems to me a that it can be used as a perfect example of the problems associated with the construction of history, and the concept of history itself. Would if be fair to state that the debate on this issue continues, and the ambiguity of the events as highlighted by the presence of various historical interpretations, supports the postmodernist assertion that truth, and indeed history, is 'subjective'.

Alex L Munro - 5/14/2006

I am conducting a study into the Khmer Rouge, and the nature of their actions in Cambodia. However, more important to my study (it is primarily focused on historiography) is the conflicting opinions of a wide range of scholars, and how these have been able to develop.

My understanding of the whole issue i have to admit is rather basic. My research into this topic has been rather extensive, yet it seems that alot of this debate has branched off into further debate about the validity or inadequacy of the comments of Noam Chomsky. As i feel like i am only catching on the end of a long running debate between, somewhat bitterly, divided historical camps, i would appreciate anyone who could briefly sketch the source of this conflict. ONe aspect which has left me profoundly confused (although it is probably quite embarrassing to admit it) is at what point and in what context did these polarised viewpoints (the STAV and its critics) emerge? I know that Chomsky and Herman, do not sit neatly on any one side of this debate, yet what i am unclear on is if both these scholars, and those who they have often been affiliated with (the 'apologists'), continue to deny the or 'play down' the atrocities of the khmer rouge, or were these arguments presented in the context of the 1970's and reviewed later?? is there today a general scholarly concensus on Cambodia that favours a view of the Khmer Rouge as responsible for genocidal acts (or at least mass murder) or one which views much of the reported actions of the Khmer Rouge to be invented or exaggerated by the western Media, and governents such as the US preoccupied with emphasising the atrocities of thier enemies? I know i seem dreadfully naive in my understanding of this subject, yet i would very much like to investigate this issue further. It seems to me a that it can be used as a perfect example of the problems associated with the construction of history, and the concept of history itself. Would if be fair to state that the debate on this issue continues, and the ambiguity of the events as highlighted by the presence of various historical interpretations, supports the postmodernist assertion that truth, and indeed history, is 'subjective'.

Bernard Leask Leask - 5/31/2005

Russell wrote,

"From this distance, I suspect Chomsky's writings on the Khmer Rouge--his attempt to oppose what he saw as a "flood of lies" about Khmer Rouge atrocities",

You're being rather disenguous Russell, you are not providing sources for your quotes. The phrase "flood of lies" comes from Ponchaud's report of a private exchange with Chomsky. And by substituting the phrase "Khmer atrocities" you are even misquoting Ponchaud's description of what was said. This is par for the course.

Bernard Leask Leask - 5/31/2005

Russell wrote,

"From this distance, I suspect Chomsky's writings on the Khmer Rouge--his attempt to oppose what he saw as a "flood of lies" about Khmer Rouge atrocities",

You're being rather disenguous Russell, you are not providing sources for your quotes. The phrase "flood of lies" comes from Ponchaud's report of a private exchange with Chomsky. And by substituting the phrase "Khmer atrocities" you are even misquoting Ponchaud's description of what was said. This is par for the course.

Russil Wvong - 2/21/2005

"Chomsky is one of most widely read political intellectuals in the world. Academic history pretends he does not exist.

"Why is this so?"

Chomsky was widely respected for his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, but he's become increasingly marginalized since then. A 1995 Boston Globe profile:

"The New York Review of Books was one soapbox for Chomsky -- but only until 1972 or so. Chomsky says that's because the magazine's editorial policy abruptly shifted to the right around then. But he couldn't seem to find a home with other publications, either. He went from huddling with newspaper editors and bouncing ideas off them to being virtually banned. The New Republic wouldn't have him, in part because of his unrelenting criticism of Israel. The Nation? Occasionally. But for the most part, mainstream outlets shunned him. Today, his articles on social and political developments are confined to lesser-known journals such as the magazine Z."

More succintly, Paul Berman writes in "Terror and Liberalism" (2003): "In the United States, the principal newspapers and magazines have tended to ignore Chomsky's political writings for many years now, because of his reputation as a crank."

I think the real question is, why and how did Chomsky come to become regarded as a crank? Reading reviews and letters to the NYRB back in the 1960s and 1970s, Chomsky was taken seriously and widely admired for his moral and political commitment to opposing the US in Vietnam, even though many of his admirers disagreed with his view of history and his treatment of evidence, even then. Raziel Abielson, for example, writing in response to "The Responsibility of Intellectuals":

"It will be said that Chomsky's account of American foreign policy is drawn in black and white, and that politics is in reality a spectrum of shades of gray. And this objection would be sound, if Chomsky were writing as a detached observer on Mars. Sure, Viet Cong terrorists have murdered, mutilated, and intimidated their opposition. Certainly, Red China has been far more hysterically aggressive than Chomsky admits (so much as to have frightened their Communist allies, as well as half their own population). But I salute Chomsky for not caring to appear fair to the facts on both sides. For the facts are known well enough by now. It is the moral evaluation of _our_ foreign policy and the decision as to what _we_ are going to do about it that is now in order."

In 1977, even while disagreeing strongly with Chomsky's skepticism regarding the murderousness of the Khmer Rouge, Jean Lacouture wrote: "I fully understand the concerns of Noam Chomsky, whose honesty and sense of freedom I admire immensely, in criticizing, with his admirable sense of exactitude, the accusations directed at the Cambodian regime. He is seeking to establish the truth and also, I would think, to combat criticism which may have the effect of serving the interests of the Nixon-Ford establishment and its allies. Such criticism may please the champions of intervention in Indochina, who were responsible for the war in Cambodia and who are guilty--as I said in my review--of initiating and prolonging the blood-bath which still afflicts that unhappy country today. However, because denunciations of Stalinism pleased Senator McCarthy, would that have been good reason for remaining silent about the Gulag?"

From this distance, I suspect Chomsky's writings on the Khmer Rouge--his attempt to oppose what he saw as a "flood of lies" about Khmer Rouge atrocities, and his failure to retract his earlier statements once the full scale of the auto-genocide became known--were the turning point. One of Chomsky's most admirable qualities during the Vietnam War, was his moral outrage at the atrocities committed by the US in Vietnam, not based on abstract principles but on common decency. In retrospect, his failure to show the same outrage at the Khmer Rouge, and his subsequent argument that the media was paying too much attention to the Khmer Rouge in comparison to the Indonesia invasion of East Timor, is puzzling. For a detailed discussion, see Bruce Sharp's articles:

I've put together a web page which attempts to criticize Chomsky's political writings.

There's an underlying conflict here, which I'm not sure that Chomsky has fully recognized and grappled with: it's the conflict between being a _scholar_ and being a _political activist_.

There's an inherent conflict between politics and truth. If the truth is complicated, and if by simplifying it you can convince more people, bring the war to an end faster, and save people's lives, should you not do so?

But once you start down this path, you get a widening gap between your view of the world and reality. To weaken the argument for war against some official enemy, you tear apart the official propaganda which attempts to blacken the image of that enemy; but in the process, you may end up believing in the enemy's propaganda instead. Instead of a simplistic good-guys-vs.-bad-guys view (the "Star Wars script") with the US in the role of the good guys, you get the same simplistic good-guys-vs.-bad-guys view with the enemy in the role of the good guys. Chomsky appears to have fallen for Bosnian Serb propaganda in just this way, and this may have happened earlier with Khmer Rouge propaganda (as repeated by Porter and Hildebrand).

Hans Morgenthau has an essay in "Truth and Power: Essays from a Decade, 1960-1970" discussing the conflict between truth (the ultimate value of the sphere of scholarship) and responsibility (the ultimate value of the sphere of politics). Chomsky's commitment to responsibility, rather than strict adherence to the truth, was admirable during the Vietnam War. But once you leave the truth behind, it's very hard to go back (especially if you find it hard to admit mistakes, as Chomsky apparently does). Before making moral and political evaluations, I think it's critical to _get the facts straight first_.

Nathaniel Brian Bates - 2/10/2005

There is much to support and much to oppose in what Chomsky is saying. He is part of the controlled opposition to power, largly in that he denies that a conspiracy killed the Kennedy brothers, and does not appear to focus on the conspiratorial angles in the killing of Malcolm X, Mae Brussel, Move, Waco, and other situations in which threats to entrenched power were silenced. He joins the Establishment in condemning people who ask questions about these things as crazy.

I do not believe that he is a Holocause denier, but some of his thinking can actually support the Fascism he claims to oppose. I am not focusing on Israel right now. I am actually thinking of other issues. His casual stance toward population control (failing to note that BOTH Pol Pot and Indonesia were supported by the Power Elite, not Indonesia merely) and other forms of outright repression have actually served the covert Left wing of Wall Street/Washington.

However, he must be DEFENDED in terms of his stance against elite forms of domination. He is right about keeping the rabble in line. We have a "Skull and Bones" democracy in which we vote for the candidate of their choice. At this time, we cannot even be sure that we are voting for the right candidate because of electronic voting. This is unacceptable. I defend Chomsky even while I revile some of what he says.

Churchill may be another matter. There is a line that people should not cross and hate speech is one of them. Strangely, Dr. Ward Churchill's own speech could be a covert support for Fascism in the guise of supporting progressive politics. Think about it. B*n La*en is a type of Fascist with connections to Oil and the Right-wing of the Pentagon, connections (presumably) severed in the 90's. However, he resurfaces when his old friends take power, just as Sa*dam, another old buddy, saber rattles. Michael Moore did not push it far enough!

Questions emerge over B*n La*en's connections to key powerful interests, when, all of the sudden, a supposed expert on Cointelpro makes an outlandist statement that seems to suggest that this Fascist terrorist is a progressive hero. Churchill throws the Bush Administration a kind of bone. It is all too foggy. I do not have all the facts, but it is time that America wakes up and fast.

Sunny Day - 2/3/2005

Maybe the historians would rather not allow a linguistic guy come in and take the spot light. Obviously, Chomsky found a money making niche and it doesn't look like Linguistics. Why are you people so enamored by him?

Laura M. Reese - 1/31/2005

Dear N. Friedman,

Touche! Your comments were a lesson to me to express myself completely on this discussion board!

I believe that 15 years in the area probably qualifies me as a longtime resident, and I am well aware of all the facts quoted in your answer. As a matter of fact, my travel agent's family name is Hobeike, and, as she lives in Furn Ech Chebak, I suppose I should ask if there is any family connection...

True, the Phalange were the hands on boys, but that doesn't explain the prolonged bombing of Raouche, a mixed Christrian/Muslim residential area, nor the horrendous hit on the UN camp at Qana, not to mention Saida and Tyre. And, although I believe your numbers were slightly askew (I'll check), no one in their right mind could look at ANY of the factions involved in the civil war and see them as anything but gangsters reminiscent of 1920's US cities. Blood feuds from over a hundred years earlier were 'settled' by those good Christians in Ehden and Bsharre, and, who can forget that the last chapter of the war took the lives of over 1000 Christians as Haddad and Geagea tried for their piece of gory glory in East Beirut? No, there are no angels, and events such as Black Saturday drive home your point. Only Geagea is in jail- the rest, I believe, are in Parliament.

HOWEVER (you knew there would be a 'however'), though the wounds still run deep, and the divisions are as obvious as ever as one drives around the country, there is an attempt at healing. The PLO were never welcomed by more than a small portion of the population, everyone to this day blames many of the country's ills, rightly or wrongly, on the Palestinians, and left-over radicals. The still- vilified Hezzbollah is now basically a political party. How is Chomsky wrong, or merely a theorist, when he quotes misinformation fed to the Western press, or mentions well documented CIA collaboration that keeps anti-Israeli sentiment at bay in the U.S. press? How many Americans are aware that the camps still exist in a barely improved state, that 'temporary refugees' live in breezeblock shacks built in 1948? Only those who bother to look- or read! Americans need to at least hear opinions quoted by Chomsky, Fisk, Kaplan, and even Dalrymple. Whether you interpret their research as fact, fiction, or theory, it IS another side to the story, my friend. The Palestinian Christian gentleman (improving his piece of the world by building a new stairway in the alley) whom I spoke with last week in the Mar Elias camp has a story many should hear. He and his family, who lost their homes to a new 'settlement' in the West Bank in the 1970's, fled to Kuwait. As an educated man, he landed a job with a pharmaceutical company, and raised his family as an expat until Sadam Hussein attacked in 1992. At that time, they were forced to leave, and, having no real passports, evacuated to Lebanon. Now, they cannot leave- no paperwork, no home, no country, no passports. He can't work at a high paying job of the type he was used to, and his family now runs a small store selling fresh veggies, chips, and sodas- in the camp, in a hole in a wall. Great stuff, eh? Another Palestinian friend's account of her bus ride to her family home in Jerusalem from Jordan is a sad tale for another time. Are these people talking only 'to the West', and not 'to themselves'? No way. Absolutely no way. The discussions one hears in Lebanon among the Lebanese are honest, not altered to impress the West. They are lamentations, certainly, but not to 'impress the West'.

By the way, the Maronites have quite a history of welcoming victorious invaders "with rice and rosewater" (Fisk)- the French, the Syrians, the Israelis, the Americans, the Powerpuff Girls for all I know... It's tough being a minority who won't conduct a census to prove it, eh?

Next time, shall we throw the Druze into the discussion? The Chouf is a beautiful area, and the Jumblatt family quite a study! Or perhaps the Saudis- I'll research what Chomsky and the boys had to say about the Magic Kingdom!


Masalama, au revoir, yella 'bye.

Laura M. Reese - 1/31/2005

You obviously didn't read my comment closely, or you would realize that I said EVERYONE loses when the Middle East, or any area of the world, for that matter, is in a state of turmoil. Indeed, I believe the Jewish people DID need a homeland after centuries of persecution. I just feel the entire matter was mismanaged, and then things REALLY went bad! How would the United States react if Mexico decided to send troups into Southern California to 'protect' illegal workers living in the area, shooting any resident American who dared come near areas 'claimed and settled' by those illegal settlers? I believe we can all guess how such a situation would turn out on our soil. For better or for worse, borders were established in the 1940's, and there has to be a limit to the expansion.

I'm sure you will argue with commentary about who attacked whom in 1967 and 1973, but Lebanon is another matter. Excuse Sabra and Chatilla if you wish, but I dare you to explain the attack on the UN compound in Qana. Insanity.

Your quotes seem to me the equivalent of the 'experts' in the past screaming "Dirty Commies!", and the Zionist chip on your shoulder is large and ugly. Do not misquote me.

As far as your comments and quotes on Shiites, you can replace the word with a term for ANY religious fundamentalist group with equal effect. I'm not, by the way, defending their radical beliefs, so don't get excited.

"Anyone who says God is on their side is dangerous as hell!"

Laura Reese

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/29/2005

You said in reasonable scholarly language what I am only able to say from the outside as a polemicist. If there were more scholars such as you perhaps more of us could find our ways in the university.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/25/2005

Fair enough. My brain doesn't work as good as it did some time back, and I remember things incorrectly from time to time and lose my temper over small things. I once had Garry Wills publishing an article in Constitutional Commentary, when actually he was mentioned in a corporate footnote that cited four other authors' works in Constitutional Commentary. And I had Lilienthal saying Oppenheimer shouldn't have been given a clearance, when actually he said (I believe, though I don't have the transcript yet of the AEC hearings) that he normally wouldn't -- one letter makes all the difference. I can't stand Chomsky, and Vickery got hit in the crossfire.

E. Simon - 1/24/2005

Surprised you didn't bring up anything on that bit about "clear(ing) our name with the United Nations,"! - as if there weren't a whole clearinghouse worth of allegations that could be leveled at the scrupulousness of that esteemed body - LOL. But that is too easy and becomes so banal and repetitive over time, notwithstanding the worth of at least attempting to educate.

However, I also tire of it too easily. But should you feel the need to engage further, at least allow me the courtesy of throwing in a platitude to boot - one that brings to mind who created the U.N. in the first place, and hopefully, why and how: As Bill Cosby often said to his kids, "I'm your father. I brought you into this world, and I'll take you out."

N. Friedman - 1/24/2005


I doubt you are a real resident of the Middle East. A real resident would know that, prior to Sabra and Shatilla, over ***one hundred thousand Lebanese Christians ***, largely Christian, were killed and that Israel had nothing to do with that. Which is to say, one massacre - this one carried out by the Christian Phalange - is blamed by you on Israel as if that erased all memory of the severe wounds already that already existed and erased all memory of the main perpetrators, namely, the PlO forces and the Muslims of Lebanon. Such, evidently, is the case at least for you.

Well, maybe the Israelis had some connection with the events in Sabra and Shattilla but, frankly, so did the Phalange which is a Lebanese group. In fact, the Phalange was the *** main *** perpetrator of the attack. It was in revenge for massacres - HUNDREDS OF MASSACRES - committed by Palestinians and, more particularly, Palestinians under the command of the former Mr. Arafat.

Moreover, a person from the region would know that the Maronites, unlike most Lebanese, not only did not condemn Israel, not only accepted Israel but wanted to free themselves from what they perceived to be Muslim dominance, considering Israel a model for themselves. Unfortunately, the Maronites failed to free themselves.

Those, by contrast, who do not have any interest in knowing anything about the Middle East, take their cues from theorists like Mr. Chomsky. His analysis, so far as I can discern, comes not from studying what Middle Easterners say to themselves but what they say to the people in the West. You evidently do the same.

There is, of course, something to learn from what Middle Easterners say to those in the West. However, that is only a small - a very small - part of the story. And, limiting yourself as you have done, you clearly miss the greater half of the story.

Stuart Berman - 1/24/2005

Yes, of course... if only Israel has no more support and the Jews just went away... The there would be peace... You are a real expert in the middle east! The Arabs nations just want peace, not to see the blood of Jews running in the street.

Hey, another peaceful Arab can be read here:


As Mark Safranski summarizes at http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/01/sure-sounds-like-they-hate-our-freedom.html:

"We have declared a bitter war against democracy and all those who seek to enact it....Democracy is also based on the right to choose your religion," [he said, and that is ]"against the rule of God....Americans to promote this lie that is called democracy ... You have to be careful of the enemy's plots that involve applying democracy in your country and confront these plots, because they only want to do so to ... give the rejectionists[ Shiites?] the rule of Iraq. And after fighting the Baathists ... and the Sunnis, they will spread their insidious beliefs, and Baghdad and all the Sunni areas will become Shiite. Even now, the signs of infidelity and polytheism are on the rise....For all these issues, we declared war against, and whoever helps promote this and all those candidates, as well as the voters, are also part of this, and are considered enemies of God"

Those lousy Jews... (Oh and the evil Great Satan, US.)

Laura M. Reese - 1/23/2005

Activism. Hmmm. A much maligned word these days, but exactly as I see Chomsky.

As a long-term resident of the Middle East, I see Chomsky's commentary, opinions, and conclusions in a completely different light. The unfettered U.S. support for Israel and it's policies has perpetuated bloodshed in the region at the expense of the most innocent, in Lebanon and Palestine, as well as the innocent in Israel. When are we willing to say "No, stop the madness", and clear our name with the United Nations?

I'd like to see the U.S. press actually carry a factual account of just one Middle Eastern event. Perhaps one should, as I have, follow Fisks footsteps to find the truth in Lebanon, read the alternate accounts of the policies in the region, as has Chomsky, speak with the refugees in Sabra and Chatila today. Analyze- then you, too, will be an activist.

Laura Reese

Eric Herring - 1/23/2005

I read John Summers’ piece on Chomsky and historians with considerable interest, as I have had a parallel experience in some ways as a scholar of international relations (IR). Although Chomsky writes about many of the central themes and issues of IR, he is almost universally ignored by IR scholars. The same is true within communication studies – his work with Edward Herman is rarely (although not never) referenced or discussed.

John Summers proposed a Forum on Chomsky and History. Piers Robinson and I put together a Forum on Chomsky which was published in ‘Review of International Studies’ in October 2003 (vol. 29, no. 4), with papers by Piers and I, Doug Stokes, Mark Laffey and Noam Chomsky himself. Piers and I, Doug and Mark were all positive about Chomsky.

Our introduction to the Forum stated

‘This special section breaks an important silence in British international relations journals toward Noam Chomsky’s political writings. Behind this silence lies the bigger matter of the silence in these journals about the issues contained in Chomsky’s work.
These issues include the use and sponsorship by the United States of terrorism on a massive scale for many years; the failure of most Western academics to take any interest in those US actions; and the dereliction by Western academics of their duty to help those who are trying to stop the United States from acting in this way. Once we started to read Chomsky’s work, we concluded that there was a great deal to be learned from it. However, when we began to draw on it, we came up against widespread hostility towards his work combined with both ignorance and misrepresentation of precisely what he writes. In order to explore this undue marginalization, we solicited a number of papers, including one from Chomsky, which resulted in this collection.

In our paper we identify the puzzle that, whilst critical scholars share the same basic analytical framework as Chomsky on news media and public consent for US foreign policy, they fail to acknowledge his work. We argue that this is a product of an institutional tendency to filter out anti-elite perspectives. The consequences even for critical scholarship are near silence regarding the corporate nature of news media, principled opposition to US foreign policy and the function of academia in buttressing elite power. The challenge contained here for critical scholars is to reflect on and cease to carry out their often unwitting role in marking out the boundary of legitimate analysis.

The paper by Doug Stokes provides evidence for Chomsky’s view that there has been fundamental continuity in US foreign policy across the Cold War and post Cold War eras which is based primarily upon exploitative North-South class relations. His work supports Chomsky’s analysis that we are seeing in Colombia continuing counter-insurgent war against left-wing rebels and a continuing war of terror against civil society. In referring to a US war of terror, rather than on terror, Stokes’ paper represents a perspective usually unthinkable in mainstream IR journals.

Mark Laffey’s paper shows that Chomsky makes a powerful case against the dominant IR disciplinary view that the Western world order is peaceful, benign and liberal (meaning that state power is constrained and human rights tend to be respected). Laffey also underscores the importance of Chomsky’s political commitment to writing for ordinary people, rather than scholars or policy-makers, in order to assist them in defending themselves against the illusions generated by many of those scholars and policy-makers.

The paper by Chomsky himself provides a detailed discussion of the failure of mainstream academia to both take seriously empirical evidence regarding US terrorism in places such as Nicaragua and Cuba and to apply to US policy the ethical criteria that are applied to ‘official enemies’.

Overall, the special section provides ample evidence to suggest that the marginalization of Chomsky’s contribution to the study of world politics is intellectually undeserved, though wholly ‘deserved’ for the power of its political challenge.’

In our article, Piers and I explained Chomsky’s marginalisation in IR and communication studies as follows:

‘Noam Chomsky argues that, while the US news media are adversarial towards the US government on foreign policy, institutional filters operate to ensure that the criticisms made generally stay within narrow bounds set by the US political elite. Chomsky’s research in this area is largely ignored even by academics who agree with this conclusion. The institutional tendency to filter out anti-elite perspectives applies not only to the news media but also to academia. Consequently, Chomsky’s work is marginalized due to its emphasis on corporate power, principled opposition to US foreign policy and the role of academia in buttressing elite power.’

The full reference for the article is ‘Too polemical or too critical? Chomsky on the study of the news media and US foreign policy’, Review of International Studies, October 2003 (vol. 29, no. 4), pp. 553-568.

The publishers, Cambridge UP, indicated that the Forum resulted in a record number of downloads from the electronic journal But subsequently no-one at all felt moved to write to RIS to argue why we were all wrong. The correspondence we did get from one communication studies scholar was an admission that, while he agreed with Chomsky, he felt that it would be too costly to him to reference Chomsky, and that what he hoped was that he could advance the arguments but without mentioning Chomsky’s name. Our view is that the arguments are not being made by communications scholars without mentioning Chomsky’s name: in fact, the most important elements of his argument are omitted.

I think John Summers was fundamentally correct that what marks out Chomsky as distinct from other progressive scholars (JS refers to liberal/Marxist) is that the force of the latter’s progressive writing has been mostly sucked out of it by the fact that it is harnessed principally to personal career advancement rather than to movements for real social change. It is scholarship aimed at advancing debates within the profession rather than providing resources for those seeking to bring about positive social change.

In a conscious effort to address this, two years ago I was part of a group of people which launched the Network of Activist Scholars of Politics and International Relations (NASPIR), based mainly in the UK, but with a growing international membership too, currently totaling 260. The purpose of NASPIR is to promote politics and IR scholarship which supports non-violent action against oppression. Its members include non-academic activists as well as students and established scholars. The idea is to establish and legitimise a new agenda within politics and IR scholarship AND to harness that directly to activism. Our discussion list is at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/naspir/ and our website is http://www.naspir.org [currently down for technical reasons, but back shortly as naspir.org.uk then reverting to naspir.org] It is parallel in many ways to the Caucus for a New Political Science within the American Political Science Association http://www.apsanet.org/~new/

One last thing: John Summers rightly refers to the reinforcement of professional hierarchy. There is an absolutely wonderful book on this subject by Jeff Schmidt called ‘Disciplined Minds’. More information and excerpts from the book can be seen at http://www.disciplinedminds.com/.


Dr. Eric Herring
Department of Politics
University of Bristol
10 Priory Road
United Kingdom
Office tel. +44-(0)117-928-8582

Convenor, Network of Activist Scholars
of Politics and International Relations (NASPIR)

Norman G. Owen - 1/23/2005

*ALL* demographic studies of Cambodia in the 1980s were "speculative," including the conclusions of others who eventually turned out to be "right." I say this as someone who has published studies on historical demography in Southeast Asia, though not specifically on Cambodia. No one who has not tried it can imagine just how shakey and slippery and contradictory the data are, or how many "heroic" assumptions one must make to reach any conclusions whatsoever. (I've known a number of historians who have dabbled in the field and refused to wade in any deeper, because they just couldn't live with that level of uncertainty.) I read Vickery's account not long after it came out, and it struck me as plausible - certainly not impossible - given what we then knew.

Vickery, it now appears, was wrong. But, as you yourself say, "Writing in 1985, Vickrey could hardly anticipate that a decade later researchers would actually count bodies." Neither could anyone else, including those who got it right. Are you suggesting that Vickery alone played fast and loose with the truth, assuming he would never get caught?!?

If your contention is that any historian who gets anything wrong is not "serious," so be it. But for the rest of us, Vickery remains a serious historian who on one question, interpreting the shonky evidence available at the time, got it wrong. May your epitaph be no worse.

Norman G. Owen - 1/23/2005

Your apology is noted (and appreciated), but I'd check even further, if I were you. As I recall Vickery's argument, it was that the usual estimates (of mortality under the KR) were too high because (1) they posited too high a "natural" growth rate for the period; (2) they failed to take into account the deaths in the _first_ half of the 1970s, under the Lon Nol regime and US bombing, &c., which he estimates to have been substantial. I doubt that he gave a high figure for KR killings during the Vietnamese invasion (which was in any event very short, unless you're referring to the whole occupation); I'm virtually certain that if he said there were a million deaths, or anything close to it, I'd have remembered it!

I tracked most of this stuff down and read it fairly closely several years ago; unfortunately, I've recently moved and can't find anything.

I appreciated your posting the links to the Craig Etcheson article assessing the current "state of the art" of Cambodian mortality studies from the Yale project. WRT the Vickery question, what I'm struck by is (a) though they disagree with a number of his conclusions, they do at least take him seriously as a scholar, and (b) much of what we now know - as opposed to surmise - is based on evidence only available since 1995, long after Vickery wrote. I think in that respect he's entitled to the same "Get Out Of Jail Free" card that all historians are when new evidence overthrows our earlier conclusions, though of course he scores zero for prescience.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/22/2005

I think I misread things. The Khmer Rouge official position was that the Vietnamese dispatched a million, which is a fantasy. Approximately that figure is what Vickrey (I believe) attributes not to the Vietnamese, but to the Kmer Rouge DURING the Vietnemese invasion. I owe him an apology on that score.

Bill Heuisler - 1/21/2005

Good to hear from you.
I've been politicking. Losing an election 113,000 votes to 135,000 votes in largely Democrat Pima County was time-consuming and expensive ($30,000 out of my pocket, more or less, of $50,000 spent on mail, signs and media).
I'm now out job hunting at 65 years of age to pay off debts. Fun. Frustrating, but few regrets.
How are the islands?

N. Friedman - 1/21/2005


Note: I was suggesting that you need to read the cites to get the point and not merely, as with most writers, to check the accuracy of what is said. At least that is my view.

Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/21/2005

"I would, at the same time, note his exact words very, very carefully and also check his sources very, very carefully to see precisely what he means - since it may be obscure as in the UN resolution example I created -."

Apply the same standards to everyone.

N. Friedman - 1/21/2005


I do not take Chomsky to be an historian. At the same time, I do not take him to be a charlatan either.

What I think is that he has his own vocabulary which, in my view, is misleading but which others believe to be very illuminating. In the created example I provided, I think Chomsky would say, if challenged - and I suspect he would be sincere - that the majority of the Security Council voted against the US which, in turn vetoed a legitimate resolution. Now, in ordinary language, that means that the resolution did not pass. In his way of arguing - if I am correct - the non-passage is irrelevant since the US is somehow illegitimately blocking the will of the world.

Most of all, Chomsky is certainly a theorist. I do not subscribe to his theory or think it even remotely useful in any way but, evidently, many people buy into his ideas.

Which is to say, I would certainly recommend reading him because he is an important figure - one who is taken seriously by many people -. I would, at the same time, note his exact words very, very carefully and also check his sources very, very carefully to see precisely what he means - since it may be obscure as in the UN resolution example I created -.

Robert F. Koehler - 1/21/2005

Mr. Friedman

Your example of how Chomsky may characterize historical facts expressing his ideologies and world view, is the drift of the conversation I am getting from the above dialogs. This HNN debate is of import to me because I have been considering buying Mr. Chomkey's books and becoming familiar with what he has to say. If I should do just that, than I am well armed beforehand to seriously question his analysis, facts & judgments as he presents them.

As the essay asserts Chomsky is widely read, considered an intellectual and has a very large & devoted following in the US and abroad. In this plebeians rummaging around in current affairs, politics and the media, I have heard his name mentioned often. My education rises no further than a high school diploma, no college or university experience. Though a voracious reader, which has complemented and provided a wider basis of understanding in place of the intellectual rigor that a higher education begets, I am a member of the working industrial classes who has to slave for a living. Unfortunately, I haven't the time to be an expert on anything - informed yes - an expert no. So by default I seek and turn to those who have earned the authority to be the experts on the subjects I am interested in. HNN may have its shortcomings among some of the glitterati of higher learning, but to this plebe its a paradise in the wilderness because of the access to higher opinion I cannot afford or go to university to acquire.

If Chomsky is less than honest, or is purposely selective in the facts to buttress & frame his ideological views, than he is doing not only a disservice to academics but also to all his followers who believe in him. I would agree that if Chomsky's influence were only of a narrow fringe, accidentally and rarely heard from, than scholarly review of his works would be a waste of time. But of course, that is not the case. This debate also informs me that such a critique would be a hot one since there are obviously some academics who believe Chomsky has something to say, as opposed to others who say not. But the pro's and con's of such an undertaking would be of immense value to those people among the hordes who can think, regardless of their level of education or what they believe.

There have been experts, are experts and always will be experts in all fields of human endeavor. Civilization cannot exist without them. The experts in the academic field of history, its disciplines and related sciences, as organized in the universities, associations & professional journals through which they speak are the authority, who labor for and have the responsibility for what constitutes critical knowledge concerning current and past events of the human race in all its guises. Its to the experts on this site that people turn, such as myself, for the insights and opinions that inform our understandings & world views of which we haven't the time or resources to acquire. If Chomsky is a charlatan, than he should be unmasked. If he is simply a misguided ideologue, than his errors should be corrected. If it should so prove that Chomsky does have something to say, than he deserves to be heard. I have no standing to make such a judgment. Such can only come from those who have earned the authority to make it. If the academic community refuses, than who will?

I provide my opinions & views with the highest regard and respect for the learning and scholarship as evidenced on this board. Attributes I admire and recognize that I lack.

N. Friedman - 1/20/2005


A Chomskyism might proceed as follows: In a discussion about US policy, he might site to a resolution from the UN security counsel against the US and argue, for example, that the US is in non-compliance with the resolution when, in fact, the resolution had not passed.

mark safranski - 1/20/2005


Thanks for the acknowledgement ;o)

Robert F. Koehler - 1/20/2005

That, frankly, scares me.

You need not worry. From what I have observed on some lists and his American Empire website, his cadre of true believers are too skull f****d to be a danger to anyone, even themselves.

I haven't read Chomsky so am in no position to judge. But if there is a silver lining in the cloud of scholarly review, excuse my impertinence to presume, it would be to subject Chomskey's thesis to critical review & judgment. As it stands now he gets a free ride with a hands off approach, which Chomsky artfully twists into gospel; 'see how they abuse me!' The righteous, all suffering Messiah in the wilderness being persecuted by the corrupt Pharisees & Sadducees of scholarship & higher learning. That plays well with the following who see it just like that, and especially with the lesser mentally challenged is all the validation they need.

If Chomsky's works are as poorly researched and crafted as some here have claimed than the author is in for some real serious evisceration and ridicule. This of course wouldn't have any effect upon the simple minded & easily lead astray, but the intelligent and enquiring who are infinitely more important, would have a yardstick to better judge the authors works.

Just an outsiders two cents.

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/20/2005

Luxuemburg wrote important historical analysis of agrarian problems in Poland among other things. Her studies were book length and “original”. Goldman wrote interesting historical analysis of the background to contraception. Trotsky wrote history. Edmund Wilson wrote history. Kautsky wrote history. Mencken wrote history. So wrote if they weren’t “historians.” They all wrote history. I can connect you to their books of history if you would like. But let us say that I am totally wrong and they didn’t write history. Chomsky wrote many important books on history and I listed some of them. Either you did not read or you can’t answer what I wrote to you.

You still did not answer any of my relevant questions in the post above….

No need to respond to this. I know now for some reason that I am unable to understand that you are constitutionally unable to respond in any way except by avoidance.


N. Friedman - 1/20/2005


With due respect, unless we are specifically speaking law to lawyers, the use of the word "genocide" carries its everyday, not its legal, meaning. Given that this website is about history, not law, your comment is entirely off base.

The alternative - the one you employ - obscures historical analysis. In the context of history, the word "genocide" carries its dictionary, not its legal, meaning. Such is why historians do not usually speak of the genocide of the Cambodians but do speak of the genocide of the Jews and the Armenians as well as the Sudanese Christians and animists.

The most obvious problem with using legalese out of context is that such usage is almost always misunderstood. In fact, such is normally - perhaps, nearly always - the purpose of such misuse of language.

Analytically, one obvious thing that the misuse (i.e. using a technical meaning where the sentence calls for the dictionary meaning) of the word "genocide" has done is obscure real instances of genocide (e.g. the genocide of the Christians and the animists of Sudan).

Speaking of the law... So far as I can discern, the actual effectiveness of law in the effort to combat genocide and/or other mass murder is all but nil - the Nuremberg trials notwithstanding -. Which is to say, almost none of the truly great villians of the last 100 years (e.g. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mehmed Talat [Pasha], Ismail Enver [Pasha], Ahmed Djemal [Pasha], Omar el-Bashir, etc.) has suffered any legal consequences. While I think that law is a good thing, I recognize its limits. You evidently do not.

As for your comment about living in glass houses, I trust you refer to my support of Israel's effort to defeat the Jihadi war against it. Whatever today's legal flavor might be, I think that the long view of history, frankly, supports my interpretation of Israel's founding, its moral legitimacy and its efforts to defend itself. I also think that the long view of history shows the illegitimacy and immorality of the smear campaign - behind which you, for no good reason, stand - against Israel.

chris l pettit - 1/20/2005

You want to depend on linguists and literary sources instead of legal definitions and their sources? That is fine by me, as I will win the debate every time. Genocide is not just a word that can be loosely defined or referred to as a definition from a dictionary...it is a legal concept that carries reamifications. The GC stipulates that states and their individual leagers have an obligation to prevent genocide...that is to address the social causes of genocide even before self interested nation states get around to "declaring" a genocide. This means states have to deal in the prevention of genocide, the conspiracy to commit genocide, the identification of cultural genocide or racism that can become full blown genocide, etc. So don;t think you can just skirt this issue and play all high and mighty by quoting a dictionary and leaving it at that...

Richard...I want to say that I agree with you about Chomsky;s definitions and agree that he was very careless in speaking of "silent genocide." I just wanted to make it clear that those in glass houses should not cast stones (as Mr. Friedman is so good at doing). Your definition of genocide has been as tortured as Chomsky's and simply dictated by your ideological leanings. As I said...this is ok and a fine stance to take, just know that you have know backing in law or ethics. Your quoting of Dershowitz is disturbing, simply because I know how much of a plagiarist and corrupt academic he is, but he may be right on this matter, and I will not judge him on his other trangressions, as I also have heard nothing to contradict this assertion, and find Chomsky to be contradictory at best and hypocritical at worst when it comes to the events you mentioned. So we are in agreement...just a word of caution, thats all.


N. Friedman - 1/19/2005


You may be right that he does not deny the Shoah. As I said before, I have no idea. On the other hand, Chomsky might somewhere, somehow directly deny the allegation which, as you surely know, follows him around. As Michael Barnes correctly notes, Chomsky does not quite do that.

In my own correspondence with Chomsky, I found him rather engaging and charming. On the other hand, in that correspondence, I thought his arguments essentially confused the surface of phenomena with its actual substance. Moreover, I thought his line of argument included the sort of mistakes that an undergraduate student makes. Lastly, he drew from this source and then that source - in my view, out of context - but ignored any inconvenient evidence. Again, that is my take although I suppose others might disagree.

With the above in mind, I do not take him to be a serious historian. On the other hand, I know from other historians I have corresponded with that his opinions, if not the details of what he writes, have a wide audience of readers who accept his views. That, frankly, scares me.

N. Friedman - 1/19/2005


It sounds like a non-denial denial.

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/19/2005

Yes that is a valid distinction but still you dealt with practically none of my questions. These people also wrote history and yet if such an ideal existed in 1917 they would have been excluded from being taking seriously by the gatekeepers of "professional" history? Why? If they make good historical contributions then whether they are "professional" historians or not should not matter.

I can understand if you don't know answers to the specific questions I asked. But you could say that you don't know the answers. Quite frankly I am a little annoyed. I asked questions that I hoped you could answer because I seriously want to read what you have to say... but your answer to me was simply avoidence. I suppose no answer is required because "professional" historians are unable to deal with serious questiions from "amatures" such as myself. Where will it get you after all? I see clearly that the ideal of the "professional" works the same way among many historians as it does among most lawyers.

Keith P Knuuti - 1/19/2005

Chomsky's take on the similarities between the U.S. and Japan in the years leading up to the Pacific War isn't all that far out in left field. _Power and Culture_ by Akira Iriye, the pre-eminent diplomatic historian of U.S.-Japan relations, makes essentially the same argument: it was not dissimilarities but the similarity of goals, which could not be accomplished by both nations, that drove the escalating confrontation in the late 1930s.

Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/19/2005


Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/19/2005

Mr. Clarke,
At least you make me laugh.

Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/19/2005

Can anybody rise to the challenge of finding just one article, book, or speech where Chomsky has said himself, "I do not believe the Holocaust happened," ?

N. Friedman - 1/19/2005


I did not read Cohn quite the way you read him. I think Cohn made a pretty good case along with much extraneous matter.

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/19/2005

Dear Mr. Clarke,

Have any the people that you trust in these matters ever engaged Chomsky's interesting survey of the Spanish Civil War and its historians "Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship"? Or has someone ever engaged Chomsky's frankly moralistic view of World War II contained in "The Revolutionary Pacifism of A.J. Muste: On the Backgrounds of the Pacific War"? Or has their been a detailed criticism of "Deterring Democracy." I have read a few reviews of Chomsky in academic journals in England, Canada, and in Italy. They were generally dismissive of his "methods" and "lack of theory" but at least they took him seriously. They categorized him as a moralist and activist and I think that is fair. But I remember when John Updike's autobiography came out. It was reviewed professionally as a contribution to historical matters. I love Updike's prose but his autobiography was a joke as far as history is concerned. Yet scholarly journals in the field of history reviewed it.

If Chomsky is as bad as so many people say then someone should take up the historical task of looking into what he says about the establishment of U.S. postwar political dominance. Perhaps he is wrong but this is certainly a valid historical topic that would test how his point of view. Or perhaps historians should look at what Chomsky has written about U.S. support for fascist dictatorships between the wars. Again perhaps he is wrong but not one professional historian has cared to put himself on the line by critisizing what he has written. Another valid topic would be Chomksy's analysis of the similarity between the Kennedy presidency and the Reagan presidency. Certainly there is an interesting article here. Or his analysis of the relationship between human rights violations under Latin American regimes and U.S. support of those regimes.

There are enough of us “non-professionals” who have found Chomsky’s works interesting to at least take him and us seriously. If Chomsky is writing the moral equivalent of “pseudo-history” then whom among the professionals will do the work to show me. My point of view on these things derives from Bertrand Russell and when I see the kind of reactions to Chomsky I can only think that these reactions are deeply dogmatic. Russell taught me that dogmatism and calumny should lead me to skepticism and so it has.

Finally, in many ways people such as Chomsky are part of our history. But others of his flavor have been ignored in the past. For years no professional historian would touch the likes of Emma Goldman or Rosa Luxembourg or take their writings seriously. The same is true today of A.J. Muste.

I am rather old fashion. I come across a work that deals with historical topics and first I wonder if it is "true" (a contentious term) and then I wonder if it is valuable. On those terms Chomsky's has written on historical topics that have revealed to me a valuable point of view of U.S. history and from what I can see much of what he says is not wrong and is probably "true."

Is it even possible that I might be correct about this?


Jerry Monaco
New York City
Shandean Postscripts to Politics and Culture at

Jerry Sternstein - 1/19/2005

One of the most lucid discussions of this issue, I believe, was rendered by Oliver Kamm in a posting on his website on Nov. 1, 2004. Here's the link:

If the link doesn't work just go to Kamm's website and search for his Nov. 1st. post, and I think you'll be rewarded with an excellent analysis of the evidence regarding this question.

N. Friedman - 1/19/2005

Before singing Chomsky's praises, read "Partners in Hate - Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers," by Werner Cohn, which appears at:


I do not know if Mr. Cohn is correct or whether he is making stuff up. However, unless Mr. Cohn is making things up, Mr. Chomsky has much to answer for.

N. Friedman - 1/19/2005


"What happened in Cambodia (on both sides) does qualify as genocide if one uses the original definition...as does what happened in the Balkans (on both sides). I don;t see the genocide in Afghanistan...although there were crimes against humanity and war crimes on both sides."

The original and still only dictionary definition of genocide involves systematic and planned destruction of an entire national, racial, political or ethnic group. Below I reproduce what appears in two major dictionaries:


NOUN: The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.
ETYMOLOGY: Greek genos, race; see gen- in Appendix I + –cide.
OTHER FORMS: geno·cidal (-sdl) —ADJECTIVE
geno·cidal·ly —ADVERB

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000



Main Entry: geno·cide
Pronunciation: 'je-n&-"sId
Function: noun
: the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group
- geno·cid·al /"je-n&-'sI-d&l/ adjective

© 2005 Merriam-Webster, Incorporated


In fact, what occurred in Cambodia was terrible and certainly worthy of the same condemnation as genocide but - unless we decide, as you often do, to ignore the dictionary - what occurred in Cambodia was not genocide.

The place where genocide has actually occurred - evidently without your concern or interest - in recent memory is in Southern Sudan. In that war, a Jihad occurred against the Christians and the animists. The Jihadis, when they were not merely exterminating the Christians and animists, were also forcing the Christians and animists to convert to Islam (sometimes in exchange for food - as reported by the UN -) or taking slaves. All told, over ***2 million people***, mostly Christians and animists, died in that genocide. There has also been, at least according to the State Department, a genocide in and around Darfur but, compared to what has occurred in Southern Sudan, the Darfur matter is minor in scope.

I think you need to spend more time consulting the dictionary.

Derek Charles Catsam - 1/19/2005

Chris --
You're continuing to personalize. I have traveled 'somewhat"? You're experiences are "superior"?

At what point did I attack your credentials? I did not. Ever. It is lying to say otherwise. As for our ideological slants, within the profession, there isn't much doubting that most historianss are left of center, so I have no idea what ideological bias of the profession you are talking about, and no idea why you would so impugn mine -- my support for israel? My opposition to apartheid South Africa? My civil rights work? What, precisely, gives me a distinct and pigeonhole-abe ideology? And if you are saying my work is not interdisciplinary, it is another example of your attacking my work without knowing it.

In any case, your unhinged attacks have lost you any legitimacy here. I have no idea what you are so angry about, why you decided to go down this road, but I'm pretty comfortable letting readers decide which of us is offbase not only about the points we are making, but more importantly in the style and tone.

But while you insult me publicly, and while you ridicule my points, and while you impugn my professionalism, how about this: Don't in private pretend that we are buddies and knowing that I am on the editorial staff of a journal (an interdisciplinary journal, one might add) email me an article you want me to consider. Frankly, respecting me in private and ridiculing me in public is precisely the opposite tack I would suggest taking were I you. I have said it before, and I will say it again, you have not earned the right to ridicule me or my views about my profession, however self-indulgently you list your vita.


Jerry J. Monaco - 1/19/2005

Mr. Salmanson,

I read Burke's piece and it was quite disappointing. He didn't engage any of the issues, but I will get to that below. What bothers me the most is his willed "blindness" of more than 35 years of political and historical writing.

I have known many people (Stephen Jay Gould, Paul Edwards being two of them) who were willing to seriously engage pseudo-science on its own terms and rationally and reasonably expose it for what it is. Scientists worth their salt, including serious biologists up to the task, will not simply dismiss "junk science" they will deal with it. If Chomsky is the equivalent of "junk science" then where is the Stephen Jay Gould to expose him? If Chomsky is writing something like the equivalent of "intelligent design" then where is the Paul Edwards to show me why I am wrong for taking him seriously?

Have any the people that you trust on these matters ever engaged Chomsky's interesting survey of Spanish Civil War history "Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship"? Or has someone ever engaged Chomsky's frankly moralistic view of World War II contained in "The Revolutionary Pacifism of A.J. Muste: On the Backgrounds of the Pacific War"? Or has their been a detailed criticism of "Deterring Democracy." If Chomsky is as bad as you say then someone should take up the historical task. There are enough of us “non-professionals” who have found Chomsky’s works interesting to at least take seriously. If Chomsky is writing the moral equivalent of “pseudo-science” then whom among the professionals will do the work to show me. Again I am not trying to insult you but my point of view on these things derives from Bertrand Russell and when I see the kind of reactions to Chomsky I can only think that these reactions are deeply dogmatic. Do you see this at all?

About science, I agree with some of what you say here. (Though, I don't necessarily accept the Kuhnian view of the history of science, which you present, but that is another matter.) I also agree that the notion of biological "evolution" has a pre-darwinian history. (Actually, Darwin himself was very suspicious of the term "evolution" and rarely used it, because he realized that its colloquial meaning was "development." He preferred "change through variation." But I think you might be aware of this.)

My main point is that most working scientists distinguish original work and recognize it and realize that they themselves are not doing it. On the other hand the amount of enforced professional conformity combined with exalted claims of originality in other academic "fields," strikes me as quite strange. In the law they say, if you don’t have the facts pound the law, and if you don’t have the law pound the table. That is what most claims of originality and “methodology” among historians reminds me of. This is not personal. I am not trying to insult "professionals" I am just making observations from the outside after being back inside for a while.

I went back to graduate school late in life and I was appalled at the difference between the physicists and mathematicians I knew in my youth and the emphasis on things like "methodology" in the "human sciences." Of all of the humanities, historians were doing the most interesting work, but it was so often mired in dogma that most don't even recognize that they start from dogma. I suppose one needs to look at these professionals from an odd point of view in order to come to my conclusions. Please realize, I'm not trying to insult you, but in your response to Chomsky I see the same kind of professional blindness and inability to engage some of the simplest issues that I see in the humanities in general.

For instance, the Tim Burke piece... Here is a quote.

"Reading over Chomsky's history of the last 50 years, I keep wondering things like, why was Lieutenant Calley put on trial? Why isn’t Chomsky dead? Why is the New York Times allowed to report facts that Chomsky reports as truth? Why are polls carried out by US polling companies of "world public opinion" permitted to accurately record, in Chomsky's view, the actual state of "world public opinion"? In fact, why is any organ or entity allowed to report useful truths and evidence? Why does Chomsky’s knowledge even exist in the first place? If it’s because hegemonic power is incomplete or partial, you’d never know it from Chomsky’s account. If it’s because resistance exists, what is the basis of a resistance that is located in the New York Times, major polling firms, and the other sources Chomsky draws upon for the basis of his authority? (Hint: it’s got to be the very liberalism and its associated rights-practices that Chomsky casually tosses into the hegemony bin.)"

Now if one has read Chomsky's writings on Central America, or his book "Deterring Democracy" or the book he wrote with Herman "Manufacturing Consent" one would know that he addresses these issues directly. His answer is a bit too "functionalist" for my taste but I think Mr. Burke either doesn't know what he is talking about or simply doesn't want to deal with the issues that Chomsky addresses in order to write the way he does. Essentially he says that and insists over and over again, that the is a society that offers the most personal freedom and formal gurantees of free speech of any society that exists. He also says that this is because many of the powerful elite groups in this country are in favor of this level of personal freedom because it is essential to their social-economic needs. Chomsky has written along these lines dozens of times in dozens of places and has analyzed the reasons why. And yet Mr. Burke is able to write the way he wrote in the article that you pointed out to me. I could go through Burke's article paragraph by paragraph and point out how he is simply being unfair. If you like I shall do this. But again I think the problem with people such as Burke is a deep dogmatic blindness, something analogous to the way the Catholic Church hierarchy in the middle ages. It makes me feel very sad.

My conclusion is that Burke has claimed to read Chomsky but he really hasn't. Maybe the words went by his eyes but he really didn't see anything.


Jerry Monaco
New York City
Shandean Postscripts to Politics and Culture at

mark safranski - 1/19/2005

All right, Michael.

The original counterpunch article defending Chomsky shares the same problems as Chomsky's writings generally do. Brad Delong can tackle the job of fisking the entire piece but here is just one example of dropped context ( or sloppy thinking) that is thoroughly misleading to an uninformed reader:

"(2) the fact that the NATO intervention destroyed the one independent political body in Europe not integrated into the Western political economy--Yugoslavia--and facilitated that integration;"

First, this is an interpretation not a " fact" - and a highly subjective one at that ( no doubt provided by one of the " many" anonymous analysts).

Secondly, Yugoslavia was destroyed by Milosevic when he upset the system of ethnic balancing that had been established after Tito's death within the nomenklatura of Yugoslavia. Secondary blame would go to radical Croations around Franjo Tudjman and external great power support for secression came from Germany, support for Milosevic's Serbian chauvinism came from Russia, albeit later on. The United States, under the Bush I. administration strongly opposed Yugoslavia's break-up and Lawrence Eagleberger in particular, wanted to try to hold the country together.

Thirdly, the rump " YugoSerbia" by 1999 was merely a legal fiction maintained by Milosevic so he could shift between Serbian and Federal offices to maintain political control of Serbia while thwarting local electoral restrictions.

Fourth, by " integrating Yugoslavia into the Western economy" the author is disengenuously referring to the lifting of sanctions imposed on Serbia for Milosevic's serial crimes against humanity. Serbia's economy, moreover was not any kind of prize for either the EU or the US but since the author did not bother with elementary and readily available economic data he can make breezy generalizations.

A good historian, including leftists, would exercise great care to put the situation in an accurate context. I cannot imagine Walter Lefeber writing anything like what comes from the Chomskyian zone.

Going through such sophmoric drivel with a fine-tooth comb to make such corrections is extremely tedious, to review the the entire piece like that would be a labor of many hours. Why bother when the argument is not even being constructed with any seriousness ?

David Lion Salmanson - 1/19/2005

The URL for Burke is linked to from the main page at Cliopatria blog, also hosted by HNN.

You have defined concepts like original and methodology by what they are not, rather than by what they are. As for most people in the hard sciences doing original work, ROTFL. If it is so original why are so many papers co-authored and so many labs produce strikingly little that is beyond confirming the lab director's hypothesis. By your definition, there have been equally few original scientists, Newton, Einstein, and one or two others in physics for example. Everybody else was filling in the blanks (and often ignoring evidence that didn't fit the paradigm).
Yes, in the 60s many historians turned toward quantitave analysis (a method, no?) in a move to be more scientific. Most historians got over that, although quantitative analysis can be a useful tool. Most historians practicing today will tell you that historians can often be proved wrong, but never proved right, that we are at best doing approximations of the world as it was. Code of ethics, methodology, whatever term you want to use Chomsky doesn't do it.
And while I am happy you fact checked to yoru staisfaction, the point was not the Chomsky makes stuff up, but rather that he blidly seizes on one quote or one fact and divorces it from others around it or ignores contravening evidence, even where there is a preponderence of it.

Darwin, of course, was not working in isolation, and later had to credit parts of "Origins" to others. He was hardly the first person to think about evolution, Darwin acknowledged the influence of Rafinesque who anticipated much of Darwin's theory. Darwin is as original as Bill Cronon. Just was the publication of Origins brought forth a new way of thinking and created a new subfield, even though groundwork had been laid for years before by others, so too Bill Cronon's Changes in the Land, a book that basically brought the subfield of envrionmental history into being, even though the groundwork had been laid for years before.

Since we are going with science analogies, Chomsky is to History as Intelligent Design is to Biology. Why should biologists have to engage a bunch of junk posing as science? Ditto Chomsky when he writes history.

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/19/2005

I think you get to the heart of something. But let me say that I think you only need the intelligence of a smart 14 year old to be able to comment on everything having to do with history and politics. There is no expertise in these area that qualifies a person for making interesting comments. Skepticism, self-reflectiion, and constant questioning of accepted truths on all sides is helpful. Of these three Chomsky sometimes skips on the second.... but his criticism of all those who are powerful in the U.S. is often worth thinking about and thinking through.

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/19/2005

Dear Mr. Salmanson,

I will read the Burke piece you mention though I wish you would give me the URL

I want to put my point of view up-front. Historians are the only ones in the academic professions, outside the sciences, who sometimes do important and interesting work. But please don't tell me that it is "original" work. Tolstoy was original. Thucydides was original. Once in a hundred years, maybe, an original history is written. We flatter ourselves when we who are in the "humanities" think we are doing "original" work. Also, I am highly skeptical that there can be anything like "theory" or "methodology" in the humanities. There are standards of accuracy but what you call “methodology” is usually a way for the ideological professions (history, sociology, economics, etc.) to flatter themselves that they are doing something that is "hard" and "accurate." It is a way to distinguish themselves from novelists and poets and relate themselves to the standards of the sciences.

I don't want to question your life's work, but there is no such thing as "methodology" in history or economics or sociology. What is called "methodology" is a filtering mechanism. It is a way of sorting young academics into those who will conform to the accepted practices of the profession. The "methodology" that you write about is a little like "professional responsibility" in the legal profession. It is necessary for the "legitimacy" of the profession but does nothing to further ethics or the search for truth. I think if you looked into the history of any profession you will see that such notions as “methodology” and “responsibility,” are helpful for setting norms but for the most part they are simply ways for the profession to police their perimeters and add legitimacy for their work.

As far as the academy is concerned I have mostly known physicists and biologists. I have not known very many historians or until the last three years I have not known very many academics outside of the sciences. Recently, at a very late age, I went to law school. My experience with the academy, including historians, is that in the humanities there is a huge emphasis on ephemeral things such as methodology and hierarchy. My experience in my youth was with physicists and mathematicians. All they cared about was whether you were correct of not. They did not care where you were in the hierarchy, or what your “methodology” was. The question was; is what he says correct? As far as I can see most professional historians don’t approach Chomsky with this question. I have met interesting historians in the academy and read a few. But quite frankly what is called "original" work among historians and what is called "original" work among scientists bears no comparison. "Original" work among most historians, including leftists, is usually highly dogmatic and ideological and quite frankly I see no way around this outside of the sciences. The best thing to do is to engage in a high level of self-criticism and allow criticism from the outside. This is just state another reason why historians should pay attention to people such as Chomsky, but also people such as Dwight Macdonald or Rudolf Rocker or Mencken, in their times. The historian’s profession is a literary and humanistic endeavor and not a profession that needs a “methodology.”

I must offer a caveat to this. For instance, recently I read "The Transformation of American Law," by Morton Horwitz and Josiah Ober's "Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens." These are histories that are well written and interesting. They are good literary works and they have strong points of view. As far as I can tell they are also highly accurate. But are they original or do they exhibit a “methodology” beyond accuracy? I doubt it.

I know that the word “original” has a special definition in the academic professions. It means doing research in areas and among documents that have not been written about before. This is a very specialized view of what "original" work is all about. But this work is not "original" in any common sense way of using the word. The work is for the most part clerical and there is no way around the fact that “professional” history elevates the clerical aspects of work. Now Charles Darwin is usually not considered and historian but he was. Darwin offered an original view of human history and in so doing founded a new science. I could say something similar about Thucydides and Tolstoy, except that they didn’t found a science but simply strong points of view of human history.

There are good historians and bad historians, interesting historians and boring historians, but I doubt that there have been more than 200 historians who have done ground breaking and original work in the last 2500 hundred years. Let me just say again that I am very skeptical about the way academics flatter themselves and flog their own work in order to get by. Hume, a great philosopher and a good historian, was also very skeptical of his fellow historians in a similar way. So I don’t feel completely alone.

By the way, I have followed Chomsky's footnotes to their sources and I have never found anything inaccurate.

Just one more point. I have seen in historical academic journals reviews of John Updike's autobiography, for example. Also when I was in Norway and when I was in Italy and in Canada I have often seen reviews of Chomsky's political books in academic journals. Why there and not here? I can only conclude that it is because he attacks the sacred notions about what the United States is about.

Jerry Monaco
New York City
Shandean Postscripts to Politics and Culture at

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/19/2005

I'm not sure I follow you Chris. Chomsky's tap-dancing on the silent genocide question seems a backhanded admission that no genocide occurred in Afghanistan. And I agree that there was a genocide in Europe during WWII, and in the Balkans, and in Cambodia.

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/19/2005

To Adam Moshe,

I find your statement very fair and given your statement let me say that there is simply a lot about Chomsky's framing of facts that I disagree with. I generally find that in his longer books and essays he offers me food for thought, that is useful to think about and, to a certain extent, fight against. Among "leftists" such as myself, I suspect those who dislike Chomsky do so because it is so hard to break his frame of reference. The accuracy of the specific facts that he mentions is not in question, but rather his point of view. If Chomsky was inaccurate, in a way that, say, Elliot Abrams has been on the right, then it would be easy to attack Chomsky reasonably instead of with calumny.

A statement such as yours is reasonable and your attitude would certainly further debate simply because we could focus on what we really disagree about. But I suspect that most intellectuals don’t want a real debate or search into specific issues but want to get rid of an irritant, so that they can continue with their careers without much self-questioning.

So this is just a thanks that you took the time.

Jerry Monaco
New York City
Shandean Postscripts to Politics and Culture at

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/19/2005

19 January, 2005
I reread the relevant passages in "After the Catastrophe" last night. Chomsky and Herman make an argument that atrocities committed by the enemies of the U.S. are exaggerated or broadcast while atrocities committed by U.S. friends or the U.S. itself are ignored or rhetorically down played. In order to make the argument in a reasonable way they then go and compare the extent of the atrocities in places such as Cambodia and East Timor. In order to compare the tragedies they have to try to estimate the accuracy of the reported numbers, of the causes of the atrocities, etc. They attempt to do so. As far as I can see their attempt is historically accurate and still holds up. Chomsky's and Herman's argument is reasonable on its face and if the same argument had been made in reference Roman Imperialism no one would think twice about its legitimacy.

We are at a history web-site. I remember that some where Bertrand Russell remarked that through studying history he had concluded that a skeptical person should assume that nations exaggerate the evils of their enemies and only trumpet their own good qualities. My "ire" comes from the fact that when a person such as Chomsky tries to show this historical truism in operation nobody deals with the actual arguments. His opposition never analyzes his arguments or the evidence; they simply resort to insult and willed ignorance.

So why not simply show me the passages you are referring to in Chomsky which are inaccurate. My guess is that what you object to is the fact that he opposes U.S. foreign policy and thinks that the U.S. is by its own definition is a terrorist state. This is rhetoric, no doubt, but I can point to similar rhetoric in "accepted" historians and commentators (read Simon Schama for example) which is passed over without mention simply because he says things that most people don't mind hearing.

Finally, let me say that I read so many criticism of Chomsky before I ever read his political work. I read his scientific work but never his political work. It was because I didn’t recognize the Chomsky I read in linguistics in the one that was described in politics that I decided to read his political work. He is as scrupulous (almost compulsively detailed) in his political work as he is in his scientific work. So, show me the facts.

Jerry Monaco
New York City
Shandean Postscripts to Politics and Culture at

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/19/2005

Mr. Thomin,
You may be correct, but much of what I have read leads me to question this assertion. Although he has certainly condemned attrocities by the Nazis and Japanese, the war itself is often portrayed as selfish and hypocritical on our part, and leading to nothing but an American empire. Please correct me if I am wrong.

"The American reaction to Japan's aggressiveness was, in a substantial measure, quite hypocritical. Worse still, there are very striking, quite distressing similarities between Japan's escapades and our own -- both in character and in rationalization -- with the fundamental difference that Japan's appeal to national interest, which was not totally without merit, becomes merely ludicrous when translated into a justification for American conquests in Asia."


chris l pettit - 1/19/2005

You want my degree qualifications? They don;t matter anyway, as they are just pieces of paper that mean nothing about what you have actually learned and experienced through travel and reading...

BA in Political History from New College of FL
BA in COmparative Religion from New College of FL
JD focus in International Law from U of FL
MA in History/Religion (Social Sciences) from U of FL
LLM focus in human Rights Law from U of Cape Town

I care not what yours are...as you obvously see a PhD as some sort of right to put up a wall against those you deem "inferior" in terms of education. maybe you will respect comments when there is a PhD after my name...I don;t really care. Your education is exemplary, and you have traveled somewhat. However...my travel and work experience is comprable if not superior to your own, and my multi-disciplinary background is undenialble.

I can;t believe that you would stoop to this...I hate pissing contests...why does it matter? Your pretensions on this issue are absurd! I have been ready to admit that Chomsky has many flaws, but that he should be considered a historian by any realistic sense of the term. You insist on taking a narrow minded ideological approach and then getting all worked up when I point out that Chomsky is more relevant to history than you have been and probably will be. Maybe you will come to recognised worldwide...I hope so for your sake...but it has not happened yet. Why attack my credentials when my arguments and refutations of your flawed positions speak for themselves? This is the last refuge of scoundrals, as is evident by many in the current Bush administration. I don;t attack your credentials...i acknowledge them and praise them. your record is exemplary...but that does not change your problems of analysis regarding this issue.

Oh...and please define "actual historian" for me, and then articulate how that definition that discourages inter-disciplinary dialogue designed to stimulate cooperation between faculties is ever going to help bring any progress to the academy or the human community.


chris l pettit - 1/19/2005

I am not applying to PhD programs in history...I am applying to PhD programs in law...which is a great deal different. You will see that many if not most law professors get their JDs and LLMs, and then lecture while working towards their PhDs. Good try though. And as for "actual historians"...what a joke...you can;t even define one other than to use your particular ideological stance. There is no such thing as an "actual historian." THis has been shown countless times in many different texts. It all has to do with your ideological base and interpretation. it surprises me that you can;t see that. i am very multi-disciplinary oriented, and well based in religion, history, philosophy, law, and sociology...something that your narrow minded history background cannot seem to grasp, as illustrated by the "acutal historians" comment. If that isn't perfect evidence of the self righteous BS of the academy, I do not know what is. If you want to whinge on about your "actual historian" background...go ahead and descend into irrelevency. if not, I would recommend listening to those who are a great deal more balanced and familiar with many areas that would help enlighten some of your rather pigheaded views.

"actual historians" hahahahahahaha


chris l pettit - 1/19/2005

As usual, we have a semantical problem...

Chomsky's defintion is too broad...Richard, your definition is as absurd as his and identified by your own ideology...this is why I continue to try and get you guys to speak in terms of law and accepted universal definitions instead of your own tortured versions.

What happened in Cambodia (on both sides) does qualify as genocide if one uses the original definition...as does what happened in the Balkans (on both sides). I don;t see the genocide in Afghanistan...although there were crimes against humanity and war crimes on both sides.

I just don;t understand why you all can;t simply concede that this stuff happens and then just acknowledge that your defense is purely ideological and has no basis in morality, ethics or law. I can accept that...you can make a might makes right and my ideology can be imposed on all others argument. Maybe you are worried that it puts you in the same camp as the Nazis, Stalinists, and all other tyrants the world has seen? Maybe you should look in the mirror and see your own hypocrises and shortcomings for what they are instead of trying desparately to maintain some facade of righteousness...


Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/19/2005

Is this a battle of the hyperlinks?


Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/19/2005

Chomsky was and is a staunch supporter of U.S. military force against Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan during WWII, as he has written on several occassions.

mark safranski - 1/19/2005


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/19/2005

My own belief, although I do not agree with Chomsky’s rationale, is that those countries that had most to fear from the United States supported the war in hopes (and in some cases promises) of reciprocation from us, while those with little to fear generally opposed the war. This is not to suggest some form of physical coercion by any means. Certainly, no country in their right mind could possibly believe that America would attack them for not supporting us. However, there are other means of punishing those who opposed us, and rewarding those who supported us. There are exceptions to this of course, such as G. Britain, whose leadership supported the war for reason that I belief to be genuine.

It is worth noting that perhaps the greatest reason most countries did not support the conflict is because their people did not. At its peak, popularity for the war never approached a majority in all but 2 countries in the world (the US being one).

But this is probably not the time to delve into the Iraq conflict, which is only the latest Chomsky outrage. He opposed the war primarily because he seems to oppose all Western military action against any nation for virtually any reason. I am unaware of any conflict or war that the West was engaged in that Chomsky considers to be anything other than a war crime.

Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/18/2005


Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/18/2005

Nonetheless, replace the Soviet Union with South Korea and the overall point remains the same.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/18/2005

Yeah, if the world was motivated by fear to support US action in Afghanistan, to where did that supposed motivating fear disappear when Iraq was on the table? Does that fear evince itself only when the US invades countries with four letters in its name?

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/18/2005

1) “if you read Peter carefully, you'll see that he added 'by historians', which generates a proposition untouched by your counterexamples.”

Richard, you are quite right. I didn’t realize and since I don’t enough about what foreign historians think about him, I will simply stick with my original proposition that he is “widely read and widely respected, particularly outside the United States.”

2) “But consider Chomsky's "argument" in one of your links. He "argues" that the great majority of the approved the US path on Afghanistan because the US is essentially a Mafia don, and the rest of the world is afraid. How exactly does this explanation comport with the fact that the great majority of the world did not go along with the US on Iraq? Can you see that Chomsky's "explanation", while glib, doesn't really explain anything at all?”

Are you suggesting that if what Chomsky is saying is true about the US being a “Mofia Don,” the rest of the world should, by that logic, have followed us to Iraq? If that is your question, then the answer is that I have no idea. I personally consider Chomsky to be a hypocrite (which is why I posted the link) and quite frankly, an anti-Semite (the fact that he is Jewish does not immunize him from the charge) and therefore there is little of his actual theories that I support or defend. What I do support is the recognition that he is a historian by all right, and should be judged as one by the historical academic community.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/18/2005

Adam, if you read Peter carefully, you'll see that he added 'by historians', which generates a proposition untouched by your counterexamples. But consider Chomsky's "argument" in one of your links. He "argues" that the great majority of the approved the US path on Afghanistan because the US is essentially a Mafia don, and the rest of the world is afraid. How exactly does this explanation comport with the fact that the great majority of the world did not go along with the US on Iraq? Can you see that Chomsky's "explanation", while glib, doesn't really explain anything at all?

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/18/2005

The US invasion of Afghanistan offers an interesting case study in the Chomsky method. Chomsky spoke of the coming silent genocide in Afghanistan from starvation and exposure, citing a few relief groups who had personnel essentially captive in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban, and who had been prevented by the Taliban from delivering food and other relief goods to areas of the country.

When the silent genocide did not realize, Chomsky offered that he had not "predicted" a silent genocide, but merely relayed the views of professionals that, axiomatically, have to be considered the basis for a moral evaluation of US policy (despite the fact that the predicted genocide did not occur -- apparently the relief groups are by definition credible and never have another agenda). Fred Astaire is alive and well, and inhabits the body of Noam Chomsky.

One might also avail themselves of the materials on the net concerning Chomsky and the Faurisson affair -- and compare them to Chomsky's remarks on the matter. As far as I know (and I'm ready to be contradicted here) neither Chomsky nor any of his devoted followers have ever disputed Dershowitz' account of circumstances surrounding a speech Chomsky once gave at Harvard (it's on the net too). According to Dershowitz, Chomsky offered that he had had no interest in "revisionist" literature prior to exposure to Faurisson. When Robert Nozick contradicted him, relating that he and Chomsky had had prior conversations on the matter, Chomsky berated him for relating a private conversation, and shoved him.

I'm hoping somebody out there will tell me that Dershowitz is wrong on this. I don't think my brain could square an anarchist proclaiming the intellectual's duty to truth on the one hand, and hiding behind a bourgeois appeal to the sanctity of private conversations on the other. Interestingly, Dershowitz resides at Summers' institution, and Chomsky a mere stone's throw away (implied smiley), so Summers shouldn't have much trouble tracking down the truth in this matter.

There does seem to be a pattern, though. Inventing genocides to put at the feet of the US, and airbrushing them in France, the Balkans, and Cambodia.

mark safranski - 1/18/2005


A fair enough request.

Basically my problem is the dropping of context and ignoring of contradictory evidence - not obscure evidence easily missed but information that borders on common knowledge. Sometimes also a lack of evidence. A couple of examples...

Noam Chomsky wrote in 1977:

"...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."

Brad DeLong, who is admittedly no fan of Chomsky but is a well-regarded and meticulous economist, went through the Economist's back issues to verify Chomsky's claim and could not do so.(http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/archives/000155.html)

In an even more bizarre moment, this time an interview with the New Yorker Magazine,March 30, 2003 Noam Chomsky is quoted saying:

"By Stalingrad in 1942, the Russians had
turned back the German offensive, and it was pretty clear that Germany wasn't going to win the war. Well, we've learned from the Russian archives that Britain and the U.S. then began supporting armies established by
Hitler to hold back the Russian advance. Tens of thousands of Russian troops were killed. Suppose you're sitting in Auschwitz. Do you want the
Russian troops to be held back?"

Any evidence for this ? Note the lack of specifics in a charge of this extreme moral gravity - not even who we were allegedly helping. UNO ? The Nazi puppet Vlasov Army ? The Wehrmacht ? (Nor was it clear in 1942 that Nazi Germany was doomed for that matter). Chomsky's entire accusation is ludicrous.

This is why I say " polemicist".

Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/18/2005

Most of his (Chomsky) works that have drawn fire from critics are accompanied by questions to why he did not or has not denounced the SOVIET UNION for their atrocities- this is why I used the Soviet Union as an example. Other than that, yet another cheap shot by Mr. Clarke with absolutely no substance.

Also note:
“…not the atrocities of the Soviet Union, which most Americans are aware of to begin with and who do not have the slightest bit of control over what that government CHOSE to do…”

Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/18/2005

And I quote:

"simply; he does not afford the Soviet government with any monetary gain to build bridges or blow them up (MIND YOU, I AM JUST USING AN EXAMPLE) or have any sway in the political spectrum (in regards to his vote)."

Peter, as Mr. Friedman constantly has to remind you, you should read the post before you make a comment.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/18/2005

You will note that the figure offered by Vickrey (700,000) is roughly half a whole cluster of estimates by professional demographers and researchers in the area, that it is now certainly "wrong" (attested to by the actual counting of bodies -- you know, vulgar empiricism), is based in part on admittedly "speculative" considerations, and may in the end prove to be "wrong" by a factor of four or five. Writing in 1985, Vickrey could hardly anticipate that a decade later researchers would actually count bodies.

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/18/2005

1) “Chomsky is NOT "widely read and widely respected" by historians "outside the United States"

I disagree. Although I can hardly speak for everyone outside of the United States, all of my foreign friends and faculty assure me that outside of the United States, he is quotes often and widely respected. Although this information is purely anecdotal, the following is how the BBC describes him: “a leading American academic,” “American political philosopher,” and “one of America's foremost intellectuals.” It has been my own observation that he is, in fact, widely read and respected.


2) “He uses/abuses history selectively, for rhetorical and deliberately polemical purposes. He is not interested in studying it objectively to dispassionately illuminate current concerns.”

Such is the exact same criticism leveled against C.A. Tripp for his book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln on this very web-site and yet no one has suggested excluding him from prominent history journals and discussions.

3) “Chomsky is 0 for 2. He has neither a scientific/intellectual mission, nor a track record as a historian.”

I never thought I would live to see the day where I am defending Noam Chomsky, but I do not agree with your analysis. I believe that Chomsky does have an intellectual missions, even if I disagree with it, and I also think that he has published enough books and been read widely enough to give him the credentials of a historian, regardless of the fact that his claim to fame has been in another field.

4) “He dabbles, he takes pot shots, he hones in hot subjects, and he puts on a good show. He enriches the culture, the way Michael Moore or Rush Limbaugh do. Their followers do not insist on academic honors for such stimulating grandstanding. Chomsky’s should not either.”

I agree, he does dabble, and take pot shots. However, Moore and Limbaugh, to the best of my knowledge, have never claimed to by anything more than social commentators, editorialists who use the film or radio rather than op-ed pages. Chomsky, by contrast, writes in academic format, uses scholarly citations, and relies on the same method as other social scientists.

5) “At least Chomsky is not selling his soul in order to outdo his father as a wielder of political power.”

I like Bush about as much as I like Chomsky, but just as Bush has earned the right to be called president, Chomsky has earned his right to be called a historian. Once the academic community decides to accept this reality, perhaps then we can actually look at Chomsky’s evidence and evaluate him based on the merits of his extensive work.

Jerry Sternstein - 1/18/2005

On his brilliant website (http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/), Oliver Kamm a British left/liberal, has written some of best pieces I've read on Chomsky, whose "political output," he writes, "has been marked by an instinctive indulgence of illiberal forces, an unreasoning animus against democratic societies, and a constant resort to sophistry sooner than acknowledge error." For anybody interested in Chomsky, Kamm's postings are a must read.

Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/18/2005

"Yet Chomsky’s moral perspective is completely one-sided. No matter how great the crimes of the regimes he has favored, such as China, Vietnam, and Cambodia under the communists, Chomsky has never demanded their leaders be captured and tried for war crimes."

Chomsky is a citizen of the United States of America, thus, he pays taxes and votes for his representative government. The money he pays for taxes goes directly towards various branches of his elected government (from roads to bridges, to bullets to bombs)- therefore, he is responsible for his government's actions, whether these actions are for the greater good or whether these actions export misery and murder. He is not a citizen of the Soviet Union- simply; he does not afford the Soviet government with any monetary gain to build bridges or blow them up (mind you, I am just using an example) or have any sway in the political spectrum (in regards to his vote). Nor is he a citizen of any other country outside of the U.S.- meaning, he does not have a civic duty, or responsibility, for the actions of those states. He does, however, have a profound civic responsibility for what HIS government (United States of America) chooses to do. Hence, it is his civic duty to criticize his government’s actions when he disagrees with them based upon morale, economic, social, political, constitutional grounds, because HE is responsible for HIS government, period. To display a myth posted on here- Chomsky is not entirely uncritical of other nasty regimes around the globe. In fact, on several occasions he has referred to despotic states as “monsters”, “murderers”, and “thugs”. Nonetheless, the area of his study is, mainly, U.S. foreign policy- it is only natural that his books should surround this topic, and not the atrocities of the Soviet Union, which most Americans are aware of to begin with and who do not have the slightest bit of control over what that government chose to do (they could not vote them out or stop paying taxes because they could not vote and did not pay their dividends to begin with). The best advice I can give to all here is to actually read his work yourself, instead of basing your opinions on hearsay. Chomsky is not entirely without flaw, but he is well above and beyond the mud critics sling at him.

Best regards,

Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/18/2005

Please clue me in, if you will, to what methodogical problems (that you believe- specific examples would suffice) historians have with Chomsky's work?


Richard Henry Morgan - 1/18/2005

I'll track down both the Khmer official statement attributing 1 million deaths to the Vietnamese, and Vickrey's endorsement (assuming my faulty memory hasn't invented it). If my memory is at fault, I'll post that too.

Norman G. Owen - 1/18/2005

I have to admit I'm not familiar with the study in which Michael Vickery claims the Vietnamese killed a million Cambodians. Can you cite it, please?

The Vickery study I _do_ know (though I cannot access it at the moment, my library being in total disarray after a move halfway around the world) claims that the death toll for the first half of the 1970s, i.e., _before_ the Khmer Rouge took over, was substantially higher than is usually acknowledged, and so accounts for a higher proportion of the net population decline between 1960s and 1980s. Not an unreasonable argument, as I read it, though necessarily speculative in part. Prior to the recent investigation being conducted under Ben Kiernan at Yale, it was about as good an estimate we had as to mortality under the KR; it may not have been correct, but it was certainly not irresponsible.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/18/2005

The articles where Chomsky cites Vickrey as a demographic authority are easily available on the net. The technique deployed by Chomsky is to take Vickrey, a scholar of Cambodia (or at least the Cambodia of 500 years ago), and cite him favorably for his off the cuff demographic opinions, which were outliers at the time, and not the result of serious research by a scholar trained in demography.

Vickrey's offering on the subject can be found at Amazon.com, out of South End Press.

An interesting overview of the demographic questions is available at http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/toll.htm or at http://www.dccam.org/Mapping/quantifying_crimes_against.htm

mark safranski - 1/18/2005


The author asked why Chomsky - who is a public figure by the way so you can drop the menacing allusions to "libel",which I have not done anyway,you know better - is not reviewed seriously by historians.

The reasons in my view relate primarily to methodology and use of citations that cause Chomsky to be ignored while someone like Gabriel Kolko is not, despite both being exceptionally critical in their stances toward U.S. foreign policy.

If Chomsky unearthed something groundbreaking in history and wrote an article or book that met the journal standards I'm sure he'd be reviewed. Praised most likely. He's a bright guy Chris, he simply chooses not to do so and instead writes for a different audience than professional historians.

Some might say an ideoogical one.

mark safranski - 1/18/2005

Mr. Monaco,

My level of clarity is most likely what is raising your ire, rather than any lack.

The problem with your argument here is the assumption that Noam Chomsky "tried to accurately report the actual extent of the atrocities in Cambodia". He did not report accurately the genocide of the Khmer Rouge and argumentation by ad hominem tu quoque is poor historical methodology. This is one reason why even those historians who share Chomsky's general leftist political outlook are disinclined to take him seriously.

Hence my classification of Chomsky as a polemicist.

Grant W Jones - 1/18/2005

I haven't seen you much lately at HNN. Keep 'em honest.


David Lion Salmanson - 1/18/2005

First, go read the Burke. You can find a link over at Cliopatria. Done? Okay, now back to your questions. 1) Yes in the very narrow sense that both cherry pick evidence and ignore evidence that doesn't suit them. Obviously, I don't think Chomsky is a neo-fascist. 2) the other non-historians have something useful to say to historians, something we can learn from him Chomsky doesn't. 3. Apparently you don't read monographs. In my own specialty of Western US history you can find engaging original work based on archival research by William Cronon, Richard White, Susan Lee Johnson, Vicki Ruiz, George Sanchez, David Montejano, David Gutierrez, Ramon Gutierrez and on and on. I don't know what academic historians you hang out with but it must not be these folks. 4. "The term methodology when used outside the sciences..." Of course C. Wright Mills had a methodology, he wrote on the importance of keeping good systemic files for crying out loud. Deductive reasoning is a methodology, so is inductive reasoning. The methodology of history is to create a plausible version of the past based on archival research (or using primary sources, your pick) and to use footnotes so that others may trace your chain of evidence so as to offer competing or confirming versions. The goal is to create the best (ie:most likely, most supported by the preponderance of evidence, "best") version of the past.

The point is not to eliminate strong points of view, (Eugene Genovese doesn't have strong points of view? Robin D.G. Kelly doesn't ahve strong points of view?) rather the point is to start the conversation from some common assumptions about how history is made or the writing is done, in other words, that arguments are made up of evidence and that the best arguments have the best evidence.

And before you accuse me of being an academic careerist, know that, although academically trained, I do not work at a College or University by my own choice. Academia has many problems, but the one you identify isn't one of them.

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/18/2005

A fair point. While I have not read much of Chomsky and therefore have little to work with, I have read some of his books and consider the facts to be accurate so far as I can tell. It is his conclusions that I tend to disagree with, as well as his select use of evidence, by which he seems to quote only part of a public statement that bolsters his point, or compares situations that are really quite different in order to demonstrate the unfair or bias nature of the Western (particularly American) media or politicians. I also believe that he is extremely bias against certain groups (namely, the US) and tends to ignore or explain away any positive contributions, while at the same time praising other groups and taking their intentions at the same face value that he denies to others.

All of the being said, this is really no different than many legitimate historians who do the same thing to support their position and yet still are offered a place in serious academic debate, so Chomsky should be no different. The reality is that I do not agree with Chomsky but that should be no reason for history journals to exclude his scholarship.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/18/2005

Good point. Personally, my own view is that Chomsky should be included in legitimate historical debate and I believe the author makes his case quite well for “his inclusion in the pages the leading journals in history.”

Whether or not one actually agrees with Chomsky is irrelevant, so far as I am concerned. He is widely read and widely respected, particularly outside the United States.

Anyone who has read my posts on the HNN consistently knows that my own ideology and interpretation of history is in sharp contrast to Chomsky, with whom I have numerous disagreements and even some level of personal contempt for his positions and public statements. Nevertheless, he is no less deserving of inclusion in professional journals as other authors names in the article.

Michael Barnes Thomin - 1/18/2005

"Everything from the tone of his writings to the recesses of his biography come up for harsh review. His critic finds a factual error and meets it with a cry of "aha!" Or if no factual errors are at hand the critic cries "too simple," and instead of engaging in research and discussion that might give the argument more nuance or variety, the critic stops reading altogether."

Re-read your posts and discover which category you fall under...

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/18/2005

Fair enough criticism. The original subject was Chomsky, who did indeed declare the evidence equivocal, based on the demographic "scholarship" of Vickery. That is Chomsky's method. Find a figure somewhere that comports with his thesis, and elevate the author of that figure to an authority -- a countervailing authority that renders the evidence "equivocal". Then those who offer opposing figures are labelled as merely instruments of the US propaganda machine. Not a particularly sophisticated recipe, but one that has allowed Chomsky to cook any number of books and become a cult figure to the Chomsky dittoheads of this world.

Where we depart, I suspect, is on the underlying motive forces when it comes to writing history more pregnant with contemporary implications. I'm not familiar with Vickery's prior training or publication record in demography. What would propel a historian to offer opinions outside his training and expertise? Gee, I wonder.

Coincidentally, with the Vietnamese in almost total control of the country, the Khmer official problem became how to explain where all the people went. I know. The Vietnamese did it!! That's the ticket!! In fact, the official Khmer view became that the Vietnamese had managed to kill a full million Cambodians!! (No, I kid you not). And who stepped up, like a short order cook, to provide an analysis along that line, though outside his field? And a correspondingly low value for deaths caused by the Khmer? You guessed it. That's my bitch, not his other work (with which I'm not really familiar). I have a similar view of Shockley's "scholarship", though I don't have a full understanding of solid state physics. But yes, you're right. It would be unreasonable of me to label either Shockley or Vickery irresponsible scholars simply because they have done, on occasion, laughably shoddy work predetermined by their politics.

Norman G. Owen - 1/18/2005

I'm afraid I don't understand why historian Michael Vickery (if you are going to keep attacking him, try to spell his name right) needs an endorsement by a "recognized demographer" in order to be considered a "responsible scholar."

If you want to argue against Vickery's calculation of deaths caused by the Khmer Rouge, fine; it seems indeed that he got it wrong. But to posit (apparently) that because this particular number is questionable he is not a "responsible scholar" raises questions about your own sense of "responsibility." (I assume, of course, that you're familiar with all of his other scholarly output, such as "Some Remarks on Early State Formation in Cambodia.")

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/18/2005

Just to make it perfectly clear what the "methodology" of Summers, Porter, and Hildebrand was immediately post-fall of Phnom Penh, not a single one of the trio actually visited Cambodia during that period (when the Khmer Rouge kicked out foreigners, and wouldn't let any enter). This did not stop them from praising the agricultural achievements of the new regime (I kid you not), and discounting (from the comfort of their university libraries) critical views offered by actual eyewitnesses, but Porter and Hildebrand even offered that the hospitals of Phnom Penh were cleared out by the Khmer Rouge because there was better health care available for them in the countryside. Strangely, there is no evidence that Ringling Bros. ever attempted to hire this trio.

Derek Charles Catsam - 1/18/2005

Chris --
Your point, at least regarding my comments, is not especially relevant. Chomsky does not write history. He does not engage in historical scholarship. Plenty of historians engage with him, but it should not surprise anyone that he does not get widely reviewed in our journals, which are intended for works of history.
Meanwhile, you may want to cut the cheap ad hominems, such as "more relavant than you will ever be." You are now applying to PhD programs in history, and being a jerk toward actual historians probably won't help your case. And don't give me this nonsense about "blind faith in historical interpretation." You can prattle on all you want in your domain of human rights law where you purport to be a superstar, but don't start telling parcticing historians whose scholarly work you largely have not read that they have "blind faith" in their own historical interpretation if you o not know what the f*** you are talking about. If you do not agree with my long standing support for the civil rights movement and the anti apartheid struggle, then fine, I am all about blind faith. My record is out there. I'll defend it. But this is not about my record, even if you decide you want to make it thus.
This has nothing to do with my historical shortcomings and flaws, however you may personalize this debate. What it has to do with, if you bothered readingh either my points oir the article in question, is that Chomsky does not apparently get the attention some thinks he warrants from historians. While this is generally untrue anyway, the fact is, if you do not write works of history you should not expect to be reviewed in sources which review works of history. This would seem to be obvious. Apparently it is not.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/18/2005


The second to last sentence of my first post (as anyone who has seen Chomsky lecture) applied to Chomsky, not Vickrey.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/18/2005

I'd say you are closer to the mark on Summers -- she has done some creditable later work, though her early stuff on Cambodia was uncritical and hasn't weathered well, has it? In fact, her early Current History articles are monuments to special pleading and conclusions without sufficient evidence -- but then what would you expect from a library research project? Overall, the early work of the Cornell Mafia hasn't been of much worth. Porter has fled the field. Hildebrand is ... just where the hell is he these days? If you can cite a remark by a recognized demographer in appreciation or praise of Vickrey's work, I'd be happy to adjust my opinion. Until then, cavalier praise wouldn't seem to trump cavalier dismissal.

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/18/2005

Please present the facts that he is "loose" with if you can? Do you really think he is loose with the facts or is it that he just has a strong point of view that you don't agree with? Reading and taking Chomsky and not agreeing with him is an experience because you find it is not his "facts" that are wrong. He gives numbers and the numbers are accurate. He tells of events and the events are accurate. So if one disagrees with him one has to re-frame the whole point of view. There is nothing wrong with the facts he presents.

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/18/2005

1) Are you comaparing Chomsky to holocaust revisionist? 2) The question posed in the article wasn't whether Chomsky was taught in the class room but why the scholarly magazines don't review his books when they do review other "non-historians." 3)I haven't seen an academic historian who has done "original" work since I don't know when. Most must work within narrowly defined fields in order to make their way up the academic hierarchy. That is just the way it is. 4)I'm not sure what "methodology" has to do with it. The term "methodology" when used outside the sciences is simply one of those terms meant to filter out those who are not in the academy. Thus great writers such as Edmund Wilson, Dwight Macdonald, Michael Harrington, C. Wright Mills, etc. can, in their times, be ignored dismissed by historians, sociologists, philosophers, etc. because they do not conform to standards that are meant to eliminate strong points of view.

Jerry Monaco
New York City
Shandean Postscripts to Politics and Culture at

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/18/2005

If by "minimization" you mean that Chomsky tried to accurately report the actual extent of the atrocities in Cambodia, and if by "apology" you mean that he tried to give an accurate picture of events, then I agree with you the argument is "semantic." In the same sense it would be a "semantic" argument to say that the U.S. was largely responsible for the events that led to the Khemer Rouge coming to power and it would be a "semantic" argument to say that the U.S. supported Pol Pot when Vietnam invaded Cambodia. If we do not have the intellectual clarity to admit the difference between "history" and "semantics" then there is no need to have any discussion at all. Point to a sentence taken in context and give me an accurate site where Chomsky “apologized” for the Khemer Rouge and then we can talk about “semantics.”

Jerry Monaco
New York City
Shandean Postscripts to Politics and Culture at

chris l pettit - 1/18/2005

Why am I not surprised...

Mark...why is it that anytime someone dares point out the atrocities committed by both sides in a conflict the person automatically becomes an apologist for whatever side an ideologue (in this case yourself) does not agree with? Your position is simply untenable and frankly does descend into the realm of libel at times. I have come to expect it, but would really like to hear a defensible and intelligent argument on a topic such as this for a change.

DC...I am also not surprised that you would conveniently brush aside Chomsky even though he has shown his historical prowess and relevancy to the historical debate. You know that history does not exist in a bubble and that it is generated by politics, culture and sociology. Chomsky is as relevant to history...even more relevant...than you will ever be. of course as I say this, relevancy is a matter of personal ideology, so of course you will disagree with no basis to defend yourself other than blind faith in your historical interpretation. SO he may not be relevant for you, but that by no means shows that he is irrelevant in general...rather it shows your own academic shortcomings and flaws.

You want to point out flaws, fine, but I continue to point out flaws in your arguments (I still have to get to the vacuous statement you made about law and enforcement...you should not say such things if you want to remain a credible historian as I can cite countless examples of the authority of law without enforcement in both ancient and contemporary history...the Edicts of Asoka and his kingdom in India are a great example) and you never seem to change your viewpoints in the slightest. Chomsky has his flaws, as do us all, but he is a great contributor to historical debate and brings to the table facts and analysis that are too often missing from the ignorant, insulated, and ideologically crazed world of academia.


Norman G. Owen - 1/18/2005

I don't know who Richard Henry Morgan is, other than an "independent scholar," but his cavalier dismissal of the reputations of Michael Vickery and Laura Summers is invidious and should not go uncontradicted. In the field of Southeast Asian studies, both scholars are well-respected, even by those who do not always agree with them; that is the nature of scholarly discourse. I am unaware of any work in that field by Mr. Morgan that would entitled him to manifest such disdain for those who have actually studied Cambodia.

The late Malcolm Caldwell, on the other hand, was actually a friend of mine, but I don't think it's unfair to regard him more as an activist than a scholar.

Derek Charles Catsam - 1/17/2005

Why would or should historians engage much with Chomsky? Before long historians might investigate Chomsky as a figure in intellectual history, but asking why historians do not engage with Chomsky's work is a bit like asking why the editors of Bon Appetit are not doing reviews on new cam shafts or why the folks at Guns and Ammo are not reviewing the new fashion shows in Paris.
There seems to be an underlying allegation here -- that hsitorians ignore the works of any but a very narrow number of other historians. This is nonsense, as anyone who reads the reviews in journals or who looks at the footnotes of good history books knows. Most relevant or noteworthy books end up getting reviewed, but yes, oddly enough historians tend to review the works of other historians. I suppose that we may as well save the investigation and let everyone know that the editors of science tend to focus on, well, science.
Is there really some need to concoct daffy conspiracy theories such as this? Egads.


mark safranski - 1/17/2005

Some good points Richard.

Bill Heuisler - 1/17/2005

Mr. Summers,
Chomsky has made millions selling dozens of books - some that contradict others. Chomsky scratches Leftist itches without ever having to produce a product for the critical examination of his peers. He has no peers. How nice.

Again, I agree with Mr. Clarke - there's no substance. Imagine a polemicist who advocates the pursuit of truth and knowledge about human affairs and promotes universal moral principles. Imagine the same polemicist whose political resume defends various tyrants, murderers and enslavers like Pol Pot and Fidel Castro - who in 1967 endorsed Mao's collectivation of China that starved 40 million people - but said "New Mandarins" in the US needed denazification; who called the Pentagon the "most hideous institution on this earth." As to the Khmer Rouge: in the evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975 hundreds of thousands died - the middle class, civil servants, teachers, intellectuals, artists and over sixty thousand Buddhist monks. Yet in a book (coauthored with E.S. Herman called "After the Cataclysm") Chomsky defended the Khmer Rouge, "...deaths in Cambodia were not the result of systematic slaughter and starvation organized by the state but rather attributable in large measure to peasant revenge, undisciplined military units out of government control, starvation and disease that are direct consequences of the US war..." If the deaths had occurred in Birmingham, Chomsky would've unswervingly convicted the US government of genocide, but he sees no evil on the Left. To Chomsky, all evil is US evil. Would you question his judgement? Agenda? Facts?

Chomsky twists facts for the dull-witted who seldom question and like their history in bite-sized bits. His classes in MIT seeth with brash self-congratulation and Fifties paranoia where so-called students poke their collective finger in the eye of a forgiving parent. A brave new world, fifty years ago, a stage for the old princess blind to collectivist mountains, but exactly conscious of the pea in his oh so comfortable bed.

Kissinger served his country as did Schleshinger, but Chomsky has always served himself and pretends to hate the source of his license and riches. How does pandering to misfits in the freest country in the world deserve any mention or honor in a discipline supposedly searching for the truth? Why would anyone who knows about him ever ask why historians ignore Noam Chomsky?
Bill Heuisler

Andrew D. Todd - 1/17/2005

Well, technically Chomsky is a linguist (a philosophical linguist, to be precise), but he is at the extreme hard edged quantitative edge of the field, just where it shades off into computer science. The comparison that immediately suggests itself is to Albert Einstein or Linus Pauling: the retired hard scientist as political activist. If there were a Nobel Prize in mathematics, Chomsky would have gotten it for generative grammar. People like that do have an irritating tendency to be very firmly convinced of the rightness of their position in fields like history.

David Lion Salmanson - 1/17/2005

Tim Burke has written compellingly about why historians ignore Chomsky. Mostly it has to do with the fact that Chomsky isn't doing anything that a) can be used in the classroom like historical fiction b) is methodologically horrible from a historian's viewpoint (almost, but not quite, in the league of Holocaust revisionists in terms of seizing one quote and using it out of context or claiming it represents all viewpoints of all people involved) and c) isn't doing any original research.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/17/2005


The 'Summers' I referred to above was Laura.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/17/2005

Chomsky's method is less to deny or minimize, but to muddy the waters. When the great weight of scholars in an area agree to a proposition which puts some of Chomsky's pals in a bad light, he elevates a handful of fellow-travellers, pseudo-scholars, and such, to the level of countervailing responsible scholars, and then declares that the evidence is equivocal. To call Hildebrand, Porter, Caldwell, Summers, and Vickerey responsible scholars is something of a bad joke -- yet something that can still evoke peals of laughter. Citing the fantasy demography figures of Vickerey ... well ... you get the idea. Most annoyingly, when speaking, he'll cite a purported fact, and then to support his interpretation of that problematical fact, he'll smirk, lazily wave his hand, and say it rests on a general truth so elementary and axiomatic that he needn't bother to support it. Snake oil.

mark safranski - 1/17/2005

This is a debate that hinges upon semantics which I am not going to get into - if you don't like the word " apologist" then use another - it remains clear that Chomsky minimized what went on in Cambodia until the evidence became unimpeachable.

Such great skepticism never would have been mustered if the question was a direct action of the United states government.

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/17/2005

To call Chomsky an apologist of the Khemer Rouge is absurd. I have read practically all of Chomsky's writings of the time, including "The Political Economy of Human Rights", which he wrote with Edward Herman. In none of those writings did he apologize for the Khemer Rouge. What he did point out is that atrocities of equal proportion, in other parts of the world -- atrocities sponsored by the United States or its friends -- were ignored for ideological reasons, while the atrocities of the Khemer Rouge were hypocritically "exposed".

It is simply an unthinking slander to call Chomsky an apologist for the Khemer Rouge.

Jerry Monaco's Blog
Shandean Postscripts to Politics and Culture

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/17/2005

I find that the analysis of academic hierarchy is convincing here and applies to many fields. The journals and magazines of academe exist for the promotion of academic careers. A review of Chomsky will rarely promote an academic career. Though I think that ideological reasons for ignoring Chomsky's historical views are usually primary among academics, it is necessary to realize that careerist concerns are an added filter.

Jerry Monaco
See Jerry Monaco’s Blog for more reflections:
Shandean Postscripts to Politics and Culture

mark safranski - 1/17/2005

I cannot speak about the professional journals but Noam Chomsky's writings have been the subject of intense debate on H-Diplo not once but several times in the last five years.

If Mr. Summers takes the time to search those archives he will the majority of the scholars on that listserv who participated in those threads, most of whom are professional historians, had serious problems with Chomsky's methodology and use of citations. Chomsky's critics spanned the political spectrum ( myself included) but some of Chomsky's harshest critics were themselves on the left.

Chomsky is in my view, primarily a polemicist of an extreme viewpoint, having once been an apologist for the Khmer Rouge and as recently as 2002 accused the U.S. of plotting genocide in Afghanistan. Which is fine, he has a role in the marketplace of ideas but Chomsky doesn't have much to teach John Lewis Gaddis about historical method or diplomatic history.

Though he could stand to learn a thing or two.