Cambodian Genocide Denialism in Counterpunch

I was shocked by the latest issue of Counterpunch which includes a truly offensive article full of praise for one of the greatest mass murderers in human history, Pol Pot.

“The Pol Pot the Cambodians remember was not a tyrant, but a great patriot and nationalist, a lover of native culture and native way of life. He was brought up in  royal palace circles; his aunt was a concubine of the previous king. He studied in Paris, but instead of making money and a career, he returned home, and spent a few years dwelling with forest tribes to learn from the peasants. He felt compassion for the ordinary village people who were ripped off on a daily basis by the city folk, the comprador parasites. He built an army to defend the countryside from these power-wielding robbers. Pol Pot, a monkish man of simple needs, did not seek wealth, fame or power for himself. He had one great ambition: to terminate the failing colonial capitalism in Cambodia, return to village tradition, and from there, to build a new country from scratch.

…St Francis and Leo Tolstoy would have understood him.

The Cambodians I spoke to pooh-poohed the dreadful stories of Communist Holocaust as a western invention.”

As if praise for Pol Pot were not enough, the author doubles down with support for Stalin and Mao.

“…To me, this recalled other CIA-sponsored stories of Red atrocities, be it Stalin’s Terror or the Ukrainian Holodomor. The people now in charge of the US, Europe and Russia want to present every alternative to their rule as inept or bloody or both. They especially hate incorruptible leaders, be it Robespierre or Lenin, Stalin or Mao – and Pol Pot.”

I consider this article to be on par with Holocaust denialism and praise for Hitler. Counterpunch is a leftist periodical but it is not without mainstream support and respect so I think this is worth calling out.

For the record, the most credible sources all estimate excess deaths under Pol Pot’s brutal regime of between 1.4 and 2.2 million people, approximately 20-25% of the entire population. The estimates come from three types of sources, 1) Interviews with survivors about relatives and neighbors killed, 2) Demographic estimates from before and after the Khmer Rouge which even today show massive discrepancies, especially for men of the relevant ages and 3) Surveys of mass graves. A good review is here. See also Yale’s Cambodian Genocide Project which does not overlook US involvement. None of this is especially controversial so Wikipedia is a good overview:

In power, the Khmer Rouge carried out a radical program that included isolating the country from foreign influence, closing schools, hospitals and factories, abolishing banking, finance and currency, outlawing all religions, confiscating all private property and relocating people from urban areas to collective farms where forced labour was widespread. The purpose of this policy was to turn Cambodians into “Old People” through agricultural labour. These actions resulted in massive deaths through executions, work exhaustion, illness, and starvation.

…Modern research has located 20,000 mass graves from the Khmer Rouge era all over Cambodia. Various studies have estimated the death toll at between 740,000 and 3,000,000, most commonly between 1.4 million and 2.2 million, with perhaps half of those deaths being due to executions, and the rest from starvation and disease.

The U.S. State Department-funded Yale Cambodian Genocide Project estimates approximately 1.7 million. R. J. Rummel, an analyst of historical political killings, gives a figure of 2 million.

A UN investigation reported 2–3 million dead, while UNICEF estimated 3 million had been killed. Demographic analysis by Patrick Heuveline suggests that between 1.17 and 3.42 million Cambodians were killed, while Marek Sliwinski estimates that 1.8 million is a conservative figure. Researcher Craig Etcheson of the Documentation Center of Cambodia suggests that the death toll was between 2 and 2.5 million, with a “most likely” figure of 2.2 million. After 5 years of researching grave sites, he concluded that “these mass graves contain the remains of 1,386,734 victims of execution”.


Agree, this is article awful. But I had a question on your comment: "Counterpunch is a leftist periodical but it is not without mainstream support." I had never heard of this online pub and a quick perusal of their books for sale did not give me the sense of a mainstream audience (at all). It's probably good to be exposed to intellectual fringes, but please be mindful how you categorize it.

Right on! I wish I had a nickle for everytime I've learned of some ridiculous supposedly "leftist" belief from a "conservative."

We'd all be rich, wouldn't we. I was going to tell Alex to be careful because he is at risk for being designated a hate group.

You'd still be a thousand times poorer than me.

I collect a nickel every time lefties tell me conservatives are motivated by racism.

That's another claim -- that "lefties" accuse conservatives or even "conservatives" are motivated by racism -- that would earn me a nickle. Every time I've heard it and tried to persue it, the claim disappears into the sand. I have heard specific sttements by spefic people who it would not be unfair to characterize as "conservatives" called racist and sometime I agreed with the call and othertimes I did not.

How about the very recent claim posted on this site that "essentially all" racists were members of the Republican party? Plenty of others agreed with that statement.

"Right on! I wish I had a nickle for everytime I’ve learned of some ridiculous supposedly “leftist” belief from a “conservative.”

You mean like a Leftie believing that: "Pol Pot was not a tyrant, but a great patriot and nationalist, a lover of native culture and native way of life. "?

I think you picked a particularly bad time to make that claim.

Since when are tyranny and 'nationalist lover of native culture and native way of live' incompatible?

Plenty of tyrants have been populist nationalists.

way of life

"Since when are tyranny and ‘nationalist lover of native culture and native way of live’ incompatible?
Plenty of tyrants have been populist nationalists."

I only quoted one sentence. I'm unsure how you could have misread it that badly. The first six words of the sentence were: "Pol Pot was not a tyrant...". I'm not sure how you got from there to: "Plenty of tyrants have been..".

A Leftie was proclaiming that "Pol Pot was not a tyrant...", which is a patently ridiculous claim given any reasonable interpretations of the words. I'm sure some Lefties would try to nit pick even that absurd quote, based upon some imaginary context or framing or the precise meaning of tyrant, etc, but a reasonable person is going to find that statement ridiculous.

It would really help if you didn't doctor quotes that are right in the first lines of the lead post for everyone to see.

The line is "The Pol Pot the Cambodians remember was not a tyrant."

Now, there is an ugly conflation between "the Cambodians" "some Cambodians" "Cambodians the journalist talked to" and "some Cambodians the journalist talked to" here.

What there is not, is a statement that the journalist, believes "Pol Pot was not a tyrant."

There is hazy, and insidious, suggestion that "the narrative" told by "Cambodians" and the narrative told by "the West" can't really be arbitrated between, or that the Cambodian narrative is more true, or that the author himself prefers the Cambodian narrative to the Western one.

The author equivocates between presentation of an existing alternative narrative and the presentation of a factually superior narrative. That equivocation is contemptible. But at no point does he say that he believes Pol Pot was not a tyrant.

So the claim that "a Leftie was proclaiming that..." is simply untrue, and "context" and "framing" have nothing to do with anything. The plain meaning of the quotation you doctored directly contradicts what you claim "a leftie" said. Rather, it takes quite a bit of context and framing to get from a claim that "Cambodians remember Pol Pot as..." to "I believe Pol Pot is..."

If you haven't heard of Counterpunch, then you haven't really been paying attention. Alexander Cockburn died just last month or two ago with wide-ranging tributes (encomiums and criticisms both.)

I'd never heard of Counterpunch until recently either. Looks like I wasn't missing anything.

I do recall that Cockburn's reputation for probity was not, shall we say, rock-solid. Apparently his publication carries on the tradition.

I've been ignoring pointers to Counterpunch for years, on the grounds that it's always been barking mad.

Typical Left-leaning mad, but always mad.

(Also, this whole thing makes me think that someone just read some Chomsky from 1978 or so and vomited it back up on the Internet.)

To be clear, I was simply asking for more context for this post. I don't doubt Alex's comment about Counterpunch or question his motivation for the post. As usual, the comments filled in the gaps enough (and then some) for me. I have noticed that posts with high humanity content and low contextual content seem to go off the tracks in our discussion. Maybe that's just the way it is, but it seems like a little more context could help.

I don't even know if Counterpunch still counts as left-leaning, and I'd certainly question the "mainstream support" thing. Counterpunch is mainly contrarian, in its most obnoxious British tradition.
Cockburn was very influential, apparently, in the 1980s and 1990s and that's reflected in his obits, but people grew tired of his stick and he alienated every serious leftist with his stupid climate change conspiracy stuff over the last ten years.
Counterpunch _is_ very useful as a warning sign, though - whenever you meet someone mentioning Counterpunch you know to steer away from any topic resembling politics lest you want to be inundated with hour-long diatribes on the most recent developments on the conspiracy front.

Ironically the Cambodian genocide was ended by communist Vietnam, making the capitalist plot theorem doubly implausible.

It's as if someone read L. S. Stavrianos' "The Promise of the Coming Dark Age" in 1976 then never enquired about what actually happened since then.

This is a pretty typical Counterpunch article. I am amazed you find it surprising.

No, you're wrong. I've been a pretty regular reader of Counterpunch, and you totally mischaracterize the site. This article is absolutely beyond the pale. Alex was right to call it out. But don't make this gross and pile on when you really don't read Counterpunch. Yes, the articles there interpret the world's events through a leftist lens, but they're usually not horribly mistaken about the events themselves. This is an ugly exception.

Does a site that would actually publish this garbage really deserve such a defense of its character?

A site doesn't have "character", it has characteristics, which all seem to be accurately described by David H.

interesting article on the author in WIkipedia. apparently he's a notorious holocaust denier too:

Yeah. However, the following statement of his strikes me as sensible:
I do deny its religious salvific significance implied in the very term ‘Holocaust’; I do deny its metaphysical uniqueness, I do deny the morbid cult of Holocaust and I think every God-fearing man, a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim should reject it [presumably the cult] as Abraham rejected and smashed idols.

Never having run across the "cult" of the Holocaust, I've never had the opportunity to reject it. I also have never shot a unicorn.

The cult of the Holocaust refers to the insistence that it was a unique event and a uniquely Jewish experience, or the perception of that insistence. It comes up when other atrocities are discussed and compared to the Holocaust. It also comes up in justifications of actions of the state of Israel.

It can be used for anything from honestly pointing out Zionist hypocrisy to an antisemitic rhetorical cudgel.

Some years ago, in the 70's I think, there was a book by Max Dimont, Jews, God and History. The author pointed out that while there were 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust, there were also EIGHT million Christians killed. That fact is often overlooked. Mr Dimont said that the Nazi's started out as anti-Jewish, but became anti-human.

James Shepherd, that's not really an accurate account of the history. Lots of people died during WWII -- some died on the battlefield, others from bombings, and still others from mass shootings, starvation, torture and imprisonment. The Holocaust -- as generally defined by historians -- refers to the deliberate murder of the European Jews with the intent to annihilate them as a "race" or people. The Nazis killed lots of other people under various circumstances but they singled out the Jews, as primary source documents and serious histories of Nazi Germany make clear.

It is easiest to see this in Poland: its pre-war Jewish population was 3,474,000 according to Wikipedia while fewer than 100,000 are estimated to have survived through 1945. Or consider Hungary in 1944 when Nazi Germany diverted scarce wartime resources in order to deport Hungary's Jewish population to Auschwitz.

From Wikipedia

Norman Finkelstein is quoted by Tablet magazine as saying of Shamir "He has invented his entire personal history. Nothing he says about himself is true".

Ironical that it comes from Finkelstein.

Finkelstein has also been very critical of the B.D.S movement's dishonesty as well.

The author apparently also believes that the media is owned and controlled by and for the benefit of rich Jews. He seems quite nuts and it reflects poorly upon the characters of the editors to ask this man to write an article. (and even worst, to publish that kind thing)

The Guardian should be regarded with the same approbrium as Counterpunch.

Here is their obit of Cockburn:

Phew! Well, that's the left for you. Pas d'ennemi a gauche. The creep loves Putin too (as 5 seconds of googling will confirm). As for Holodomor, my own grandmother lived through it on hedgehogs and saltbush flatbread.

Plus he's Greek orthodox. No wodner he's a scumbag

My sarcasm detector readings are off the scale...

Why would this be "genocide"? Wasn't it mass murder targeting certain classes, not ethnic groups?

Is it somehow less atrocious if certain classes, not ethnic groups, are targeted? If no, what are you quibbling about?

I didn't say it was less atrocious. Genocide has a specific meaning. If certain classes rather than ethnic groups are targeted, then it wouldn't be genocide.

Yes- I've heard of "democide"- would this be more appropriate? Genocide has become synonymous with "large sclae killing" which is not really correct.

For the record, the most credible sources all estimate excess deaths under Pol Pot’s brutal regime of between 1.4 and 2.2 million people, approximately 20-25% of the entire population.

US bombing during the Korean War killed up to 30% of North Korea's population according to some estimates.

Curtis LeMay himself admits around 20%. Estimates of civilian deaths range from 2 to 5 million. North Korea's population was around 10 million at the start of the Korean War:

If the Cambodian case is an example of genocide, I don't see why this wouldn't be as well. This would actually have a stronger case for genocide since rather than certain classes being targeted, civilians in general and the infrastructure they depended on were directly targeted.

Are these reliable estimates? If so, it is terrible and I would really question why and how this happened. However, it is qualitatively different in that it occurred as part of a military response to an unprovoked invasion.

Presumably Pol Pot and the peasants viewed Pol Pot's actions as part of a response to unprovoked predation on the countryside by the urban classes.


Come on, executing tens of thousands of people with pick-axes because they wore glasses and so were presumed to be literate and therefore a threat to the regime is analogous to a bombing campaign during an actual war? I'm not defending a policy of targeting civilians, but I think there is an important distinction. However I am not "denying" or glorifying a civilian bombing campaign- but you seem to be denying Pol Pot's mass murder?

Or rather, defending it?

I believe official estimates are around 2 million.

Even if it is qualitatively different, it would still be the case that civilians and civilian infrastructure were directly targeted.

‘Infernal Jelly’ Turned Koreans Into Potato Chips

"The use of napalm during the Vietnam War became the target of protests in the U.S., but the American military loved the “infernal jelly.” Oceans of it were dropped on North Korean civilians, whose bodies became “covered with a hard, black crust sprinkled with yellow pus.”

According to Bruce Cumings, Gen. Matthew Ridgway wanted bigger napalm bombs to “wipe out all life in tactical locality,” and by the end of American involvement, the U.S. had dropped nearly 33,000 tons of napalm and 635,000 tons of bombs on North Korea, more than in the entire Pacific Theater during World War II.

Before the armistice in 1953, an estimated two million people died in North Korea, with the majority of their towns and cities destroyed."


Yup. Terrible. A lot of people died. The North shouldn't have started it, should they? Where I come from I seem to recall the aggressor bears the moral consequence of the war...

Incidentally, napalam was a tactical weapon delivered by tactical bombers used against troop concentrations. You may get a lot of local collateral damage, but it was never used to attack cities AFAIK (indeed your own quote makes that clear - if you understood military-jargon better, you'd recognise what Ridgeway was saying). Most DPRK civilian casualties in the conflict would have been starvation / disease, with a minority from blast/frag/burns, and an even smaller napalm burns set.

Your post appears deliberately misleading, to that extent.

From where I come from, there's no excuse for targeting civilians or engaging in genocidal action.

You don't know anything about the war. North Korea was an agrarian society. The Air Force ran out of military and industrial targets quickly, early in the war. So then cities, towns and other population centers and infrastructure were deliberately targeted by bombing.

Not to excuse it, but bombing in Korea was scarcely 5 years after Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the ghastly fire bombings of Tokyo that preceded them.

These days it's common to raise the question "was Hiroshima just?", but was that question being asked in 1952? I don't know.

The Soviet Union had recently developed it's own A-bomb. Had they not, would the US have considered using it again in Korea?


That sounds waaaaaay too high. Actually, to my professional eye, it looks absurd to the point of mischief. Do you have a reference for the deaths and that bombing was responsible?

High explosive is a very inefficient way to kill a predominantly rural population even if you set out to (and the US, for all its faults, wasn't). You wouldn't believe how much you have to drop per death. You might break down the food distribution network and let famine / disease do the killing, but I'm guessing wartime DPRK was not exactly prioritising rations for the peasantry in the first place...

Yeah, Nick's numbers are absurd. It is hard to get estimates of causalities in Korea (NK is not really forthcoming with statistics), but total causalities on both sides are around 3 million total. But those are for north and south and are wounded plus killed. Killed is a likely around 1/3 of that (but hard to say).

20% of the population killed by bombs is just nonsense. Hiroshima had a population around 350k and total deaths by the end of 1945 were from 20% to 40%. But that is from one a-bomb dropped on a city. 20% killed by high explosive over ruralish country is just stupid.

I don't know where the 20% figure is coming from, but it is fairly common to estimate that 10% of the entire Korea's population died in the war. 1.5 million is the standard figure for North Korea civilian dead. Both of these figures are far lower than the ones that Nick is throwing around, but there is no denying that Koreans had it very rough in the Korean war.

That said, Nick is have dubious tastes in sources. I did not thoroughly frisk the source he linked to, but someone who quotes Curtis LeMay as authoritative source on how effective strategic bombing was obviously is not very familiar with how early advocates of strategic bombing loved to exaggerated the effectiveness of their bombers.

The figures aren't controversial. LeMay himself admitted around 20% killed by US bombing, and this was after the war ended in a stalemate, where he wasn't in a position to argue that it was very effective.

You don't have to hit every single civilian in the head with a bomb to kill them. You can kill civilians by bombing civilians and civilian infrastructure. Targeting civilian infrastructure is a more effective way to kill civilians via bombing than bombing civilians directly.


I am beginning to think you are just trolling at this point. As a point of logic, if most people use one figure and only a few people use another figure, than the figure that only a few people use is controversial regardless of whether it is right. Most people who are horrified by the Korea war use the 10% figure as it is the highest commonly accepted figure. For one example see

While accurate numbers for deaths are imprecise, various sources approximate the war's South Korean civilian casualties -- dead, wounded and missing -- at about one million people. North Korean civilian casualties were perhaps twice that, many of them as a result of the U.N. bombing campaign. The numbers vary, but it's probably safe to say that there were somewhere between three and four million Korean civilian casualties; this at a time when the total population was some 30-40 million people! And civilians died at a ghastly rate in Korea. Historian Bruce Cumings, in a 1994 article in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, notes that civilian casualty rates in the Korean War were nearly 70 percent of total casualties, compared to about 40 percent in World War II.

The official estimates of the South Korean government can be found here and it is somewhat smaller than the numbers given above. My 1.5 million figure comes from here and that is why it is smaller than the 10% figure.

Second, I find it hard to believe that anyone who knows enough to spell Curtis LeMay's name could ever honestly think that LeMay ever doubted effectiveness of strategic bombing. Hint: Read up on the history of the Vietnam war (it came after the Korean war if you are confused). Just in case you are escaping the logic of your position: If bombers killed 20% of the population, did only bombers kill people or did more than 20% of the total Korea population die?

Third, if you are an honest man not just a troll, have you considered the mathematical implications of what you are saying? 1 out of every 5 people is an almost unprecedented loss for a nation at war to endure (can't think of another nation that endured right off hand). That level of loss over a short period of time would have profound demographic effects for years to come. And yet North Korea was able to rebuild its Army in short order after the war was over. Nor was it much poorer that South Korea in the years that followed. Both of those things are pretty hard to square with the level of loss that you claim to believe North Korea suffered.


Apparently the writer of that article has not seen this:

I think that picture pretty much wins the argument.

I mean...who arranged those skulls in those nice neat orthogonal little rows???


Looks like somthing Damien Hirst would do...

Nazis killed because they hated humanity; communists killed because they love humanity. Or something like that.

Well, Nazis only hated a certain part of humanity.

Communists only love a certain part of humanity, too. They hate the rest quite as ardently as the Nazis hated the Jews. And their love is... well, I'd rather go without.

For leftys it doesn't matter what the results are, as long as you profess the "correct" intentions.

The best response yet to Holocaust denial: - Maybe it works in Cambodia as well?

Cockburn and Counterpunch always flirted with crankdom and shock journalism polemics. It's hit or miss. "Leftists" don't read Counterpunch uncritically. How many "leftists" do you think are going to start defending Pol Pot because of an article on Counterpunch?

The ones stuffed with straw?

Best leftists are Dead Leftists?

If there's one thing leftists are known for it's their highly attuned bullshit detector and their laser like ability to slice facts from puff pieces. That is of course why virtually zero Americans ever believed in a 9/11 conspiracy and why nonsense like crystal healing is solely the domain of the right wing.

Blah Blah Blah you can find a gazillion ridiculous beliefs that carry a lot of currency on the hard-core right as well. Many an iron-fisted dictator has been has been white-washed in the National Review. Hardcore hacks on either side will always hold dear to their political beliefs over facts.

Equating support for right wing dictators, as a general rule, with white washing Pol Pot's crime is offensive in itself.

You can't say that any more than you can say the fact that America was segregated proves that the fight against the Nazis was merely between two equally offensive racist countries.

Also are 9/11 conspiracy theories only the province of the far-left? I have a strong feeling that the 9-11 truther movement has a fair amount of support amongst groups like the Militias and other extreme right-wing anti-government organizations.

A funny thing here is that Cockburn was actually stridently critical of "truthers," writing a number of polemics directed against them.

Neither side has a monopoly on whacky beliefs, but I feel like a lot of "criticism" I hear of the left from various people who are conservative is stuck in some kind of time-warp in the 1960s or 1970s - I mean "crystal healing"? Uhhhh....yeah maybe a bunch of hippies in 1968 believed in that stuff.

Yes, it's all rather bizarre. Superstitions pinned to "the left" are either completely marginal and relatively non-political (spiritualism, homeopathy), with their own usually much more politicized right wing analogs (fundamentalism, evangelicism, Christian science) or in fact relatively non-partisan (corporatistic government conspiracy theories dabbled in by anti-statists and paranoiacs both left and right).

Meanwhile, deathpanels and birther conspiracies are actively pandered to by leading Republican politicians. Meanwhile, what, some democrats advocate for GMO labelling or protest mandatory vaccinations?

After a certain point, the Far Left and the Far Right have much more in common with each other than they do with the mainsteam left and right. Both the Far Left and Far Right are opposed to the dominant democratic liberal order (and liberal here is a pretty wide definition of anyone who defends a democratic state and market economy, so it includes the classical liberals and Christian Democrats of "the right" as well as the American liberals and European socialists of "the left.") Both Hitler and Stalin described how easy it was to turn their opponents into supporters (Hitler after destroying the German Communists, and Stalin after destroying the actual Nazi government) which neither was able to do really with the democratic opposition. Both the Far Left and Far Right are inherently anti-democratic and against the market economy. Both also seem to be very suspicious of any involvement of the Jews.

Please - this is too much post-modernism even for the most meta of hipsters.

So in other words, you condemn this horrifying article?

My "condemnation" of the article is irrelevant. What would my "condemning" the article do? I'll leave issuing "condemnations" to those who are actually authorities on Cambodia and the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

There are some hasty generalizations and shoddy inferences in the article that push it towards obscurantist apologia. Some of the rhetorical technique could be construed as attempting to conflate subjective accounts with objective facts. Unfortunately, those aren't the aspects of the article Alex chose to highlight.

I love (in a cynical way) how he squeezes Robespierre into his list of misunderstood murderers. Those darn capitalists have even infiltrated the radical Jacobins!

Minor point, I went to the Counterpunch site to find the article. I realized it was linked to here, but I was curious to see if it was taken down. It wasn't, I located it by searching the archives for September 2012, though since it wasn't in the "latest edition" (the online version comes out with lots of articles every day, pretty much the same publication rate as Marginal Revolution posts) it took some time to find it.

The two points here is that no, they didn't take it down, and they should have given the factual inaccuracies and holocaust-denial nature of the article, and second this is a site that publishes tons of articles and has long flirted with lunatic fringe type stuff (its hardly a "mainstream" site). Which is overall a good thing, there is enough fringe stuff that turns out to be correct that we need more sites/ publications that straddle the mainstream and the fringe.

This is the featured article for today, September 24th:

Its an article by Franklin Spinney that essentially repeats a point made by Tyler Cowen here recently and several times earlier, that the number of manufacturing jobs in the US has dropped. I thought Tyler's post was more informative because it also discusses whether manufacturing output had dropped -its often claimed that manufacturing in the U.S. is in fine shape, its just being automated. The Spinney piece doesn't address that, though it connects the drop in manufacturing employment with the problems with the U.S. labor market in general. In any case, this is an example of the Dr. Jekyll, or more mainstream, part of the publication.

But their editorial bias has a big Lawrence-of-Arabia/ noble savage idealization of movements that claim the anti-colonial mantle, even if its obvious that the group in question is a gang of thugs. They post alot of fringey stuff, and the late Alexander Cockburn was a big global warning denier. As GiT noted above, its hit or miss. I usually check in once per day to see if there is anything worth reading, though it hasn't made it to my bookmarks list.

I've not read the Counterpunch article, and I probably won't. I did live in Cambodia for several years and know many Cambodian-Americans and try to keep up on the issues.

There is a strain of denialism in Cambodian society. About half the population was born after 1980 — so half the population has no direct knowledge of the events. A great many Cambodians who survived the experience don't like to talk about it. There's a cultural aspect: It's considered bad luck to talk about bad things.

And some people — young and old — simply don't want to accept that Cambodians would massacre other Cambodians. It doesn't help that the current regime, which is not considered a paragon of democracy and liberty, uses the genocide and the Vietnamese-backed invasion that ended it as a significant source of legitimacy. There is a sense of "if the dear leader says the sky is blue, maybe it isn't."

It's not uncommon to hear people — even educated, worldly Cambodians who have studied and lived abroad for decades — muse that the Vietnamese orchestrated and planned the genocide to erode Cambodian power. Many former Khmer Rouge soldiers (especially the holdouts on the Thai border) have expressed no remorse at what happened because they say they were defending the homeland against foreign threats.

On the issue of genocide v. class-based killing, everything I've read and heard indicate that the killing originally targeted the "urban" class (a class broad enough to include anyone who had lived in a city, spoke a foreign language, or had even passing contact with a foreigner) and rapidly spread to anyone who could be considered a threat to the regime. Toward the end, the regime was demanding almost a quota of traitors, leading to random people being rounded up and killed (at least in some areas — enforcement seems to have been unequal).

I could ramble on indefinitely on this topic, but to sum up, it's not surprising that someone could travel to Cambodia and find a few deniers. I would like to think the U.N. tribunal is helping to change that, but maybe not.

The article tries to hedge in the beginning by saying it is offering an account of this "Cambodian denialist" perspective, but it definitely crosses the line separating a sort of phenomenological account of how that particular belief system operates to an attempt to construe that belief as "as correct" or "more correct" than the standard account, without any serious attempt to present evidence one way or another.

Isn't killing anyone with a hint of education just a natural extrapolation of Stalin's killing of the Polish educated class? In other words, the commies have "form" on this.

Stalin killed the Polish educated class because he wanted to destroy the idea of Polish nationality. However, although there were brutal purges of Soviet intellectuals, these were designed to intimidate and ensure loyalty among those who were spared. Stalin didn't single out intellectuals as inherently threatening to Soviet Communism. After all, he was pro-industry and needed engineers and scientists to help develop the country.

Pol Pot's regime was quite different. He held the deeply reactionary view that educated city-dwellers were polluting the country with Western, capitalist ideas and sought to transform Cambodia into a country made up almost entirely of poorly educated peasants living in the countryside. That's why one of the first things the Khmer Rouge did when they seized Phnom Penh was to evacuate it almost entirely of civilians -- the city was seen as a den of corruption and subversive influence.

This is shocking indeed, but what do you expect from an author who defended David Irving as a victim of the "Jewish superiority complex". Alex Tabarrok's holocaust denial comparison is very much to the point. As for the Cambodian genocide, one of the best references is still the work of Rithy Panh, both his films and books, most recently "L'élimination", which was published earlier this spring:élimination-Christophe-Bataille/dp/2246772818/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348511899&sr=8-1

Years after the war ended, journalist Bruce Palling asked Chhit Do, a former Khmer Rouge officer, if his forces had used the bombing as anti-American propaganda. Chhit replied:

"Every time after there had been bombing, they would take the people to see the craters, to see how big and deep the craters were, to see how the earth had been gouged out and scorched.... The ordinary people sometimes literally shit in their pants when the big bombs and shells came. Their minds just froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told. It was because of their dissatisfaction with the bombing that they kept on co-operating with the Khmer Rouge, joining up with the Khmer Rouge, sending their children off to go with them.... Sometimes the bombs fell and hit little children, and their fathers would be all for the Khmer Rouge"

The Nixon administration knew that the Khmer Rouge was winning over peasants. The cia’s Directorate of Operations, after investigations south of Phnom Penh, reported in May 1973 that the Communists were “using damage caused by B-52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda.” But this does not seem to have registered as a primary strategic concern.

What's more offensive, a stupid article by an idiot denying the cruelty of Pol Pot's regime, or government policy choices which may have enabled the regime? What should we spend more time talking about?

I call false dichotomy. We can talk of both, right? But for my money, I hate malice more than stupidity, and errors with hindsight more than errors of foresight.

Of course, even if it was a Communist propoganda gift, it may still have been the "best move", or at least arguably the least worst known to the NIxon administration. There are very few choices in the real world that come with no downside, and one of the hallmarks of a mature analyst is conceding that there are no perfect strategies known with perfect foresight...

I call false dichotomy. We can talk of both, right? But for my money, I hate malice more than stupidity, and errors with hindsight more than errors of foresight.

Except these "errors" are mostly swept under the rug and never even looked at in hindsight. Malice is so easily dismissable, but what about stupidity that we never bother to think about?

Of course, even if it was a Communist propoganda gift, it may still have been the “best move”, or at least arguably the least worst known to the NIxon administration. There are very few choices in the real world that come with no downside, and one of the hallmarks of a mature analyst is conceding that there are no perfect strategies known with perfect foresight…

This is a good excuse for shoulder shrugging. That kind of rationale would not fly in the business world.

From "Witness," by Whittaker Chambers:
'..Yet if it was just as evil to kill the Tsar as to kill two million peasants, it was evil because a violence had been committed against the soul--the soul of the murderer as well as of the murdered. It was not evil for any lesser reason. By the logic of history it was expedient, and in its directness merciful. "How long are you going to keep on killing people?" Lady Astor would ask Stalin brightly. "As long as it is necessary," he answered and asked in turn: "How many people were killed in the First World War? You killed that many people for nothing," he had added, "and you blame us for killing a handful for the most promising social experiment in history?" In terms of the modern mind, which excludes from its reasoning the undemonstrable fact of God, Stalin's answer was unanswerable.'

Hardly unanswerable.

How about, "Two wrongs don't make a right," for starters.

How about "There's no such thing as a 'promising social experiment' that requires mass murder." By definition such an experiment is a catastrophe.

I'm sure others can provide further answers.

You killed that many people for nothing,” he had added, “and you blame us for killing a handful for the most promising social experiment in history?

Well I'm somewhere in the atheist/agnostic spectrum, though presumably I have a non-modern mind, because I find that one entirely answerable. That millions died in WWI is an excellent reason for avoiding killing any more.

That and social experiments should not be run by people who are so innumerate as to think that a million people is merely a handful.

Gold Price Chart so beautiful that it will

make you want to lick the screen:
Max Goldberg, Founder.

Dear Worthless Spammer.

Kindly volunteer for the blindfold and a last cigarette during the next genocide.


The Internet

I only lick the screen when I catch sight of my own reflection.

Wow. Shame on Counterpunch for printing that pointless article, but shame on Alex for purposefully mis-reading several points. And shame on me for expecting the comments to alleviate this mess.

Pol Pot was basically the closest we've ever got to having a real live Dark Lord.

But hey, Chomsky thought he was OK...

The US was fighting for capitalism, and more human rights, against communism, in Vietnam & Indochina.

Part of what the US was fighting against was communist killing fields.

Those against the US fighting, were at least friends of the third kind (enemy's enemy) with Pol Pot and N. Viet peace agreement violators.

Losing the Peace (after Paris) was because of the unwillingness to continue fighting, due to anti-war folk -- who are thus fairly responsible for the fact that commies took over in Vietnam and Cambodia.
And those anti-war folk are somewhat responsible for the commie Killing Fields.

The US should have kept fighting when the N. Viet army violated the Peace Accords, to stop communism and genocide.

The US shouldn't have supported a coup against Prince Sihanouk, who was doing an exceptional balancing act in his country to keep things from getting very messy.

The US army should have supported Vietnamese independence after WWII, too.

Nick, I am totally agree with your thoughts. Keep doing these type of work.

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