If you wanted to write a hagiographic study of Noam Chomsky and a denunciation of his critics as character assassins committed to destroying a great man’s reputation to silence his dissent from “orthodoxies,” you’d have four options for dealing with Chomsky’s holocaust-denial about Cambodia (and denunciation of those who complained about it while it was happening):
1. You could deny that Chomsky said what he said.
2. You could claim that Chomsky was right on the facts.
[Chomsky’s own strategy seems to be a combination of these two.]
3. You could admit that Chomsky was wrong on the facts but argue that he was justified in supporting the Khmers Rouges, and in doing some violence to the truth in the process, so as not to give aid and comfort to Kissinger.
4. You could admit that Chomsky was wrong on the facts and figure out some way to make that an excusable mistake.
Or, if you were really, totally, completely shameless, you could just pretend the whole thing never happened, passing it over entirely in silence.
Guess which strategy Glenn Greenwald chose? Twenty-six paragraphs, in which the word “Cambodia” does not appear.
The first time I heard Chomsky speak was at the Philadelphia Moratorium rally October 15, 1968, which I’d done a tiny bit to organize. Chomsky gave one of the four most effective political orations I’ve ever heard live (the others were by Gene McCarthy, Cesar Chavez, and Andreas Panandreou). He had perfected the great rhetorical trick of seeming utterly unrhetorical; he simply recited a catalogue of facts, with citations, to show that the war was a terrible idea.
Of course, the key “fact” was that the NLF was an entirely indigenous movement of the South Vietnamese, that the Southerners hated the Northeners, and that, therefore, the certain result of American withdrawal would be the establishment of an independent South Vietnam.
It was a great speech, though. No wonder Greenwald admires Chomsky!