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Preface to the 2014 Edition
1. The Setting
1.1 The U.S. Impact on Indochina
1.2 The United States in Vietnam: A Partia
1.3 Picking Up the Pieces: A Return to Cou
2.1 The Intelligentsia and the State
2.2 In the Light of History
3. Refugees: Indochina and Beyond
7. Final Comments
About the Authors
and Edward S. Herman
After the Cataclysm:
Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology
Copyright © 1979 by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman
First Edition published by South End Press, Boston, Massachusetts
This edition published in 2014 by
P.O. Box 180165
Chicago, IL 60618
In the US, Consortium Book Sales and Distribution, www.cbsd.com
In Canada, Publishers Group Canada, www.pgcbooks.ca
In the UK, Turnaround Publisher Services, www.turnaround-uk.com
All other countries, Publishers Group Worldwide, www.pgw.com
This book was published with the generous support of Lannan Foundation and Wallace Action Fund.
Cover design by Josh On.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is available.
Preface to the 2014 Edition
Our study The Political Economy of Human Rights, originally published 25 years ago, consists of
two volumes, closely interrelated. The first, entitled The Washington Connection and Third World
Fascism, reviews the horrendous reign of terror, torture, violence and slaughter that Washington
unleashed against much of the world in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily in the western hemisphere and
Southeast Asia, including U.S. aggression in Indochina, surely the worst crime of the post-World War
II era. The second volume, After the Cataclysm, reviews the immediate aftermath in Indochina along
with some relevant but overlooked comparative and historical material.
As discussed in the preface to the original publication, the two volumes are devoted to both facts
and beliefs: the facts insofar as they could be obtained, and beliefs arising from the way facts were
selected and interpreted through the distorting prism of a very powerful ideological system, which
gains much of its power from the belief that it is free and independent.
The earlier history of PEHR, reviewed in a prefatory note to the first volume, illustrates some of
the interesting features of the doctrinal system. In brief, an earlier version was published by a small
but successful publisher, owned by a major conglomerate. An executive of the conglomerate was
offended by its contents, and in order to prevent its appearance shut down the publisher, effectively
destroying all its stock. With very rare exceptions, civil libertarians in the U.S. saw no problem in
these actions, presumably because control of expression by concentrated private power, as distinct
from the state, is considered not only legitimate but even an exercise of “freedom,” in a perverse
sense of “freedom” that finds a natural place in the prevailing radically anti-libertarian ideology
(often called “liberal” or even “libertarian,” a matter that will not surprise readers of Orwell).
Elsewhere, we have discussed the general character of the doctrinal system more explicitly,
reviewing its consequences in a wide array of domains.1
One useful perspective on the ideological system is provided by a comparison of treatment by
media and commentary of their crimes and our own—both the reporting of the facts and the
propaganda system’s reaction to each. There was a highly revealing illustration at the time we were
writing in 1977-78: the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in December 1975, and the Khmer Rouge
takeover of Cambodia in April 1975. Our two longest and most detailed chapters review these two
cases: East Timor in Volume I, Cambodia in Volume II.
In both cases, information was quite limited. In the case of East Timor, knowledge of the facts was
limited by design: a good deal was quite accessible, including coverage in the Australian press. In the
case of Cambodia, in contrast, reliable facts were very hard to obtain.
There was, however, extensive information about the second element of our inquiry: the belief
systems that were constructed. In the case of East Timor, the U.S. reaction was brief: silence or
denial. In the case of Cambodia, as we reviewed in detail, the reaction was unrestrained horror at the
acts of unspeakable brutality, demonstrating the ultimate evil of the global enemy and its MarxistLeninist doctrines.
The comparison is revealing. In both cases, it was clear that terrible crimes were in process, in the
same area of the world, in the same years. There was one striking difference between the two cases.
The crimes underway in Cambodia could be attributed to an official enemy (at least if U.S. actions,
directly death-dealing and also helping lay the basis for further deaths are overlooked, as they were)
and no one had a suggestion as to what might be done to mitigate or end them. In the case of East
Timor, the crimes unequivocally traced back to Washington, which gave the “green light” for the
invasion and provided critical military and diplomatic support for the vast atrocities (with the help of
its allies), and they could have been ended very easily, simply by orders from Washington. That
conclusion, never seriously in doubt, was demonstrated in September 1999, when President Clinton,
under intense domestic and international pressure, quietly informed the Indonesian generals that the
game was over. They instantly abandoned their strenuous claims to the territory and withdrew,
allowing a UN peace-keeping force to enter. In a display of cynicism that mere words cannot capture,
this was interpreted as a “humanitarian intervention,” a sign of the nobility of the West.2
Our chapter on East Timor was far and away the most important in the two volumes, precisely
because the huge ongoing crimes could have so readily been ended. It passed without mention in the
doctrinal system—as, indeed, did our detailed review of many other U.S. crimes. In dramatic
contrast, a sizable literature has been devoted to our chapter on Cambodia, desperately seeking to
discover some error, and with unsupported and unjustifable claims about our alleged apologetics for
Pol Pot. We reviewed those that were even mildly serious in Manufacturing Consent, and there
should be no need to do so again.
While evidence about Cambodia in 1978 was slim, enough existed to make it clear, as we wrote,
that “the record of atrocities in Cambodia is substantial and often gruesome,” with “a fearful toll,”
though the available facts bore little relation to the huge chorus of denunciation of the genocidal
Marxist rulers. Not all joined in the chorus, including some of the most knowledgeable and respected
correspondents, among them Nayan Chanda of the Far Eastern Economic Review. The most striking
exceptions were the few people who actually had some significant information about what was
happening: the State Department Cambodia specialists, who stressed the limited nature of evidence
available at the time we wrote and estimated that deaths from all causes were probably in the “tens if
not hundreds of thousands,” largely from disease, malnutrition, and “brutal, rapid change,” not “mass
Such sources, however, were not useful for the task of ideological reconstruction, so they were
ignored. And the tasks were serious ones. One crucial task was to suppress the hideous crimes that
the U.S. had committed in Indochina, and even justify them by invoking the catastrophe when the U.S.
finally withdrew. That includes Cambodia, where the U.S. air force executed Henry Kissinger’s
orders (originating with Nixon) for “A massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies
on anything that moves” in rural Cambodia. A related task was to turn the anti-war movement into the
guilty parties by charging them with denying enemy crimes and even for preventing (non-existent)
Western efforts to overcome them. Amazingly, Western intellectuals even rose to these demands.3
When some information about East Timor finally seeped through the ideological filters, it became
necessary to explain why the U.S. government had been so fully engaged in these terrible crimes—
which went on through 1999—and why the Free Press had failed to bring them to public attention
while focusing attention on crimes of the official enemy that were beyond our control. The obvious
explanation, confirmed in innumerable other cases, could not be accepted. A “more structurally
serious explanation” was offered by the respected correspondent William Shawcross: “a comparative
lack of sources” and lack of access to refugees. In short, the extensive information in the Australian
media was unavailable to Western journalists in comparison to the very scattered data about
Cambodia; and it is far more difficult to travel to Lisbon or Melbourne to interview the thousands of
refugees there than to trek through the jungle on the Thai-Cambodia border.
Most chose a different approach. James Fallows explained that the U.S. “averted its eyes from
East Timor” and “could have done far more than it did to distance itself from the carnage”—the
carnage that it was purposefully implementing. Later, in her famous study of our failure to respond
properly to the crimes of others, current UN Ambassador Samantha Power wrote that “the United
States looked away” when Indonesia invaded East Timor, killing perhaps one-fourth of its population.
In fact, the U.S. looked right there from the first moment, and continued to for 25 years until finally
deciding to end the criminal aggression by its favored client.4
The basic facts were never obscure, at least to those interested in their own responsibility for what
happens in the world. When Indonesia invaded, the UN sought to react but was blocked by the United
States. The reasons were explained by UN Ambassador Daniel P. Moynihan, widely lauded as a
dedicated advocate of international law and morality. In his 1978 memoirs, he wrote with pride about
his achievements after the Indonesian invasion and its grim aftermath, of which, he makes clear, he
was well aware. In his words: “The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked
to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective
in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no
Khmer Rouge atrocities peaked in 1978, and were ended when Vietnam invaded and drove the
Khmer Rouge out of the country. The U.S. immediately turned to supporting the Khmer Rouge under
the name “Democratic Kampuchea,” while continuing its support of Indonesia’s ongoing crimes in
East Timor. The reasons were candidly explained by the State Department: the “continuity” of
Democratic Kampuchea with the Pol Pot regime “unquestionably” made it “more representative of the
Cambodian people than the [Timorese resistance] Fretilin is of the Timorese people.”6
The doctrinal system remained unaffected.
The pattern is pervasive. To move to another area, consider Latin America, the traditional U.S.
“backyard.” In Volume I, we reviewed some of the horrifying consequences of U.S. policies there
from the early 1960s. The plague of repression that spread over the continent hit Central America
with full force after we wrote, always with crucial U.S. participation and initiative. The general
picture is well known to scholarship. John Coatsworth observes that from 1960 to “the Soviet
collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of non-violent
political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European
satellites,”7 including many religious martyrs, and mass slaughter as well, consistently supported or
initiated in Washington. Needless to say, the conventional picture within the ideological system is
Another and related reversal is even more dramatic. In recent years, much of Latin America has
broken free from U.S. domination, a development of enormous historical significance, illustrated in
many ways. One has to do with the topic of our study. During the period we reviewed, Latin America
was a primary center of torture worldwide. No longer. The extent to which that has changed is
revealed in an important study by the Open Society Foundation that reviewed global participation in
the CIA program of extraordinary rendition. This program, initiated by George W. Bush, sends
suspects to favored dictators so that they can be tortured and might provide some testimony—true or
false, it doesn’t much matter—that can be used to expedite U.S. terror operations.8 Virtually the entire
world participated: the Middle East, of course, because that was where the selected torturers were,
and most of Europe. In fact only one region was absent from the record of shame: Latin America.9
The implications are evident, and have reached the doctrinal system in much the same fashion as
those reviewed at length in these two volumes.