Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Oliver Kamm and his Scholarly Scruples

Oliver Kamm takes scholarly standards seriously. He is a stickler for correct handling of source material. There is no difficulty in finding, among his many ponderous denunciations, a consistent rhetorical front against sophistic interpretations and misrepresented citations.

A favoured target is Noam Chomsky. In recent years, Kamm has asserted that this “undeservedly influential writer on politics” is guilty of “dishonest handling of source material” that is “demonstrable and persistent”. He fails to adhere to “scholarly standards” — indeed, his political output is an “affront to the notion scholarship”.

So disgraceful are Chomsky’s tactics that Kamm has devoted, at a conservative count, seventy separate blog articles to the subject, along with an assortment of incidental jibes, with the consistent theme being Chomsky’s misrepresentations. These postings are largely of a piece with his identikit Amazon “reviews” and tireless newsgroup efforts to educate “the Professor’s undergraduate admirers” that Chomsky is “an ignorant, innumerate crank”. (The latter are chiefly distinguished by Kamm’s adoption of a peculiar pseudo-Wodehousian, blazer-jacketed style, only partially abandoned since: “There's nothing to stop you incriminating you further as an ignoramus, old bean...”)

So we can be in no doubt that Kamm takes scholarly probity seriously. Why, then, have several of his attacks on Chomsky exhibited, and indeed relied upon, the exact flaws that he decries in others?

The most recent example was pointed out by Steven Poole. In his posting, “Chomsky bamboozles on the Balkans III”, Kamm quotes a paragraph about Kosovo from pages 56-57 (note the numbers) of Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival:

“Nicholas Wheeler ... estimates that Serbs had killed 500 Albanians before the Nato bombing, implying that 1,500 had been killed by the KLA.” (pages 56-57)

Chomsky cites Wheeler’s book, Saving Strangers, in support of his 500 figure, having given the 2000 number earlier. Kamm denies Wheeler says 500 Albanians were killed before the bombing:

“On p. 269 he says: ‘It is estimated that some 500 Kosovars had been killed and 400,000 displaced in the year leading up to NATO's action, but the justification for intervention was that without it many more Albanians would have been killed and forcibly driven from their homes.’ Note the term Wheeler uses: he says 500 Kosovars (i.e. residents of Kosovo, both Serb and Albanian) were killed; he does not say or imply there were more Serb than Albanian casualties.” (Kamm’s emphasis)

Kamm has previously complained that “Chomsky goes out of his way to omit the context that allows reasoned conclusions to be drawn”, so how to understand what he has done here? With context re-inserted, Wheeler said this:

“The difficulty with this criticism [that the bombing accelerated Serbian ethnic cleansing] is that it relies on the assumption that, in the absence of NATO bombing, the Serbs would have ended their killings and forced expulsion of ethnic Albanians. It is estimated that some 500 Kosovars had been killed and 400,000 displaced in the year leading up to NATO's action, but the justification for intervention was that without it many more Albanians would have been killed and forcibly driven from their homes.”

That is, Wheeler was talking about killings by Serbs, not of “both ethnic Serb and Albanians”, but specifically ethnic Albanian Kosovars. Lest there be any doubt on this, Steven Poole gave a list of pages where Wheeler clearly means “Albanians” when he writes “Kosovars” (245, 258 and 284). As Poole says, on this count, Kamm is “plain wrong”.

On the second charge — that Wheeler does not specify the relative numbers of Serbian and Albanian deaths — Kamm is simply irrelevant, because Chomsky does not claim this of Wheeler. He is comparing Wheeler’s 500 figure with a separate 2000 figure — a fact clear from the surrounding discussion. Whether this is a valid comparison is a different matter, not addressed by Kamm.

This inept pedantry was preceded by an equally false prequel, about which I’ve already written. Here Kamm claimed Chomsky had misrepresented Phillip Knightley’s testimony regarding the Trnopolje camp, and an inmate there, Fikret Alic, pictured behind barbed wire. In an interview Chomsky suggested Knightley had “determined that it was probably the reporters who were behind the barb-wire, and the place was ugly, but it was a refugee camp”.

Not so, said Kamm, quoting as proof a pre-trial Guardian report carrying some general comments from Knightley about the general nature of war photography — no mention among them of refugee camps or barbed wire at all. He characterised this as “what Knightley really said about the case”.

Except it wasn’t. Knightley said more, as one would expect, given that he was a defence witness in a libel case hinging on the photograph in question. He confirmed that Trnopolje was probably partly a refugee camp, and that the footage “was misleading because it implied that they [the pictured inmates] were detained by the barbed wire”, which was “symbolic”.

In this case, if anyone’s “handling of source material is fundamentally untrustworthy” it is Kamm’s. He has expended 1427 words analysing a single point made during a wide-ranging interview, and is shown to have either a comically poor understanding of the material under discussion (even with the Internet to help, and Nick Cohen passing him references), or a simple lack of concern for the truth.

His penchant for microscopic analysis of interviews also led to his first “bamboozles on the Balkans” post. He quotes Chomsky in a New Statesman interview referring to a British parliamentary inquiry that “reached the astonishing conclusion that, until January 1999, most of the crimes committed in Kosovo were attributed to the KLA guerrillas.”

Kamm then makes a big play of investigating which “unnamed parliamentary inquiry” Chomsky is citing. “I believe I have found what Chomsky is referring to,” he announces. It was, he reveals, a quotation of Robin Cook in a Defence Select Committee report.

But that wasn't all:

“[W]hat makes Chomsky's use of this quotation disgraceful and dishonest is that, as well as attributing it to the inquiry rather than the Foreign Secretary, he omits what it refers to and why it was said.”

He goes on to flail Chomsky for only implicitly referring to the Racak massacre as a “single exception”:

“It is, to say the least, highly relevant ... to the reckoning of moral culpability by the protagonists in the conflict, and to the reasons that Nato resolved upon a bombing campaign to repulse Serb aggression.”

Consequently, Kamm concludes, he “leaves it out, the better to misrepresent his material and prettify his political record.”

The reader comes away with the impression that Chomsky has consistently misrepresented the Defence Select Committee report and remained quiet about the Racak massacre Chomsky makes reference to this inquiry, we are informed, “quite often”. Only through the sedulous detective work of Oliver Kamm was the truth brought to light.

But the strange thing is, Kamm didn't need to conduct any extensive researches to find a more precise and detailed statement of Chomsky's position on the report. All he needed to do was read the rest of page 56 of Hegemony or Survival, where both his complaints are answered.

First, Chomsky quite explicitly sources the statement to Robin Cook:

“A subsequent parliamentary inquiry revealed the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had told the House on January 18 that the KLA had “committed more breaches of the ceasefire, and until this weekend were responsible for more deaths than the [Yugoslav] security forces.”

Then he addresses the Racak massacre in the next sentence:

“Robertson and Cook are specifically referring to a massacre carried out by the security forces at Racak on January 15, in which forty-five people were reported killed.”

Chomsky goes on to explain why Racak was not a key justification for bombing, as Kamm implies, because “Western documentation reveals no notable change in the distribution of violence after Racak”, among other reasons. (The bombing began over two months after the 15th January Racak massacre and crucially after the Rambouillet conference.)

There is little evidence Chomsky was being deliberately silent about Racak in the New Statesman interview. It isn't even certain he was silent, given the ellipsis before his mention of a “single exception”. But regardless, it was an interview, and inevitably limited in detail. The only fair thing to do, when considering why Chomsky didn't mention something in an interview, is to consult his written work, which shows that he has not shied from discussing what Kamm says he's trying to conceal.

By contrast, it is quite clear that Kamm has remained silent on crucial context, and in a distinctly more discreditable fashion. He must know that Chomsky has discussed the Racak massacre in print because that discussion appeared on a page of Hegemony or Survival that he quoted. It is also discussed in earlier books, A New Generation Draws the Line and The New Military Humanism, with which Kamm is familiar if he was correct in his 2005 boast that he believed he had read all Chomsky's political books, and which are cited in the endnote immediately following the one he quotes from Failed States. Nor is it hard to find interviews and articles in which Chomsky mentions Racak.

But instead of mentioning these “to say the least, highly relevant” facts, Kamm alerts his readers to silence on Racak in Failed States in his third “bamboozles on the Balkans” posting. As discussed, the third posting's primary theme was an erroneous allegation about Wheeler's book, raised in the context of Chomsky's discussion of Kosovo. Kamm knows that the section of Failed States in question cites page 56 of Hegemony or Survival, because he quotes the citation. And he knows that on page 56 of Hegemony or Survival there is a discussion of Racak. Yet he “leaves it out, the better to misrepresent his material”.

Is it fair to quote Kamm now and say that “[t]he further you penetrate, the greater are the evasions, short cuts and falsehoods”? I haven't even mentioned here his bizarre defence of an interview, not on the grounds that the factual claims it made were correct (they weren't), but that its author was “entitled” to her “interpretation”. Nor have I gone into his persistently extravagant accusations regarding Chomsky's quoting of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's memoirs.

How does one evaluate such a collection of distorted analyses? Are they all just slips? Is Kamm, nonetheless, a fair commentator on Chomsky? Let's consult, once again, Oliver Kamm, defender of scholarly scruple:

“When the 'errors' are all in the same direction... then something more is involved.”

26 Comments:

Blogger james higham said...

How then do you react to his assertion that:

"Arthur Schlesinger caught him in “scholarly fakery”."

Referring to Chomsky, of course.

Then, why is Oliver Kamm doing this? What are the antecedents of the focus on Chomsky, in your opinion?

10:05 am  
Blogger StuartA said...

My point here is that Oliver Kamm does not meet his own standards, not that Noam Chomsky has never made an error. It isn't Chomsky or me that jumps up and down over every incorrect reference, shouting about scholarly standards: it's Kamm.

Besides, Kamm's own errors here seem more serious than those he accuses Chomsky of, not least because in two cases he is minutely scrutinising interviews, whereas he himself has the benefit of books and the internet. Amazingly, even with this advantage he comes out looking worse.

The particular case of citing a page of Chomsky's book for one purpose, while ignoring everything else on that page for another purpose, strikes me as hilariously hypocritical for a man purportedly so rigorous about contextualising references. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd think Kamm was a fake, designed to discredit the case against Chomsky. As it is, I can only assume he has a total contempt for his readers, or is simply not very bright.

As for the Schlesinger matter, I haven't read the sources, so I can't comment. It doesn't change Kamm's position. He suggests that what Chomsky writes about politics is discredited by his dubious handling of source material. Whether or not that is so, application of Kamm's standards to his output on Chomsky shows it to be -- pick your own denunciatory phrase -- "an affront to scholarship".

I have no psychological insight into why Kamm is so obsessed with discrediting Chomsky. Certainly it's rather easier to get a gig writing for The Times if you have the "right" opinions, and denouncing Chomsky is a fine way of showing you have, particularly if you purport to be on the Left, but it's hard to explain the volume and repetitiveness of Kamm's onslaughts that way.

Did he ever reply to the Knightley evidence issue before? Maybe he'll tell you why.

11:18 am  
Blogger james higham said...

I'd like to see a debate between the two of you. That would be choice. Of course, I don't know enough about this to comment but I am working my way through Oliver Kamm's posts on Chomsky and then looking at your pieces as well. It's a little esoteric but I'd like to know where it really is with Chomsky. Unfortunately, apart from the net, I have no access over here to the literature in English.

4:44 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

The only way you or anyone else can evaluate Chomsky's work is by reading it. The most comprehensive and relevant picture would probably be obtained by reading one of his recent books, but there are plenty of essays on the web.

Even without doing that, there are a couple of indications of how to assess Kamm's criticisms.

Firstly, Chomsky's books typically contain hundreds of citations. That Kamm, after eight years of combing through his work for errors, and allegedly reading all his books, has only produced what he has is a fairly strong indication of the reliability of Chomsky's citations. I say "fairly strong" because Kamm is demonstrably incompetent in his criticism.

Secondly, Kamm barely ever addresses Chomsky's arguments; instead he engages in captious nitpicking. For example, he (incorrectly) moans about the Wheeler citation, but nowhere does he even attempt to rebut Chomsky's case against the Kosovo intervention, which does not hinge on Wheeler's figures. "A New Generation Draws the Line" does not even cite Wheeler.

If he took on that argument, and others, then he would have some claim to be a serious critic. As it is, he comes across as an overreaching school debater who's dropped his notes.

6:43 pm  
Anonymous John Cancer said...

The rigour of Chomsky's referencing is obvious to anyone who reads his material.

Kamm, who doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same paragraph, always has come across as an "overreaching school debater who's dropped his notes". As you say, "simply not very bright" is the most plausible conclusion.

11:40 pm  
Anonymous Dieter said...

Your defence of Chomsky ignores Kamm's point that Robertson's and Cook's statements about deaths in Kosovo refer only to the brief ceasefire period between October 1998 and January 1999, not the entire year in which the 2000 deaths occurred. Chomsky should have known this, as he also should have known that the estimate of 2000 deaths was based on a higher estimate of Kosovar-Albanian casualties than Wheeler was using. So even though you're right about Kamm's sloppiness, it appears that Chomsky's analysis and use of sources in this instance is misleading and possibly distorted.

10:01 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

Firstly, as I noted in the posting, Kamm is convicted by his own standards. You can call it "sloppiness" if you like, but according to Kamm "[w]hen the 'errors' are all in the same direction... then something more is involved."

Secondly, as I have also already pointed out, Kamm is critiquing a spoken interview. We have no idea what Chomsky said that wasn't included. To condemn an incomplete record of Chomsky's words on account of omissions or incomplete qualifiers is fatuous. To do so while making far worse errors in a written piece is even worse.

As for specifics, the force of your point about Cook's statement escapes me. Kamm quotes Chomsky as saying that "until January 1999, most of the crimes committed in Kosovo were attributed to the KLA guerrillas". He quotes Robin Cook saying on 18th January 1999 that "until this weekend [the KLA] was responsible for more deaths than the [Yugoslav] security forces".

Kamm comments that Cook's statement applied only to the period after the 16th October 1998 Holbrooke agreement, although he says that other (spurious) objections make Chomsky's use of the Cook's statement "disgraceful and dishonest". You appear to take this more seriously than Kamm, although I'm unable to fathom why.

I see no positive claim in the interview that Cook's statement applied to the entire preceding year, or the 2000 deaths figure (which Chomsky does not mention). While one can construe the words reported in the interview as implying the former, for the reason given above I do not see that this allows one to reach a conclusion about Chomsky's handling of source material.

I am also not convinced that Kamm is necessarily correct in his claim that Cook's statement referred only to the period following the Holbrooke agreement. At the least Kamm would need to provide more evidence. The defence select committee report in which Cook was quoted does refer in paragraph 34 to that period. But Cook did not preface his statement with a similar qualifier. I see no immediate reason to privilege a particular reading of a later, ambiguously-worded report over what was said at the time.

As for the Wheeler/statistics argument, please provide me with a source for your claim that "the estimate of 2000 deaths was based on a higher estimate of Kosovar-Albanian casualties than Wheeler was using".

2:24 am  
Anonymous Dieter said...

Yes I accept your point about Kamm's hypocrisy.I wasn't referring to Kamm's analysis of Chomsky's interview but to Kamm's third post on Chomsky and the Balkans, where Kamm was criticising passages from "Failed States" and "Hegemony or Survival". The 2000 figure is at start of both of those passages. Oh I've now realised that Kamm didn't actually quote Robertson, just Cook. In fact,Robertson testified before the House of Commons that until mid-January 1999 "the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was responsible for more deaths in Kosovo than the Serbian authorites had been". Anyway, aside for the Nicholas Wheeler evidence, Chomsky states that "the British government makes the remarkable claim that up until January 1999, most of the 2,000 were killed by the KLA." So, the key point is whether or not Robertson and/or Cook were referring to the previous year of conflict (ie.1998) or just the brief ceasefire period. If they were referring to the previous year, then Chomsky is entitled to make the claim.If, however, they were just referring to the ceasefire period, then he is wrong. I presumed the latter case to be true since I believed Kamm knew the truth about the context of Robertson's and Cook's statements, and also because Cook mentions breaches of the ceasefire in his statement. Robertson's statement is more ambiguous however.

Finally, the 2000 figure of deaths on all sides in Kosovo was never sourced in Chomsky's book; he says it's based on Western sources. I found a link that concurs with what I was saying about the figure, but I'd don't know how reliable it is.

5:06 am  
Blogger StuartA said...

Your language did not indicate that you took the point about Kamm's hypocrisy. If Kamm's errors can be dismissed as "sloppiness" then so can Chomsky's, and we can all go home. Kamm, however, wants to make a bigger deal out of it.

The reason I assumed you were talking about Kamm's analysis of the Chomsky interview is because you referred to "Kamm's point that Robertson's and Cook's statements about deaths in Kosovo refer only to the brief ceasefire period between October 1998 and January 1999". That point was made in his analysis of the interview, not the posting to which you now link.

I don't know why you raise Robertson. I can see no mention of him in Kamm's three postings or the Chomsky interview. Please provide a reference for his testimony, if it is relevant.

I asked you for a source for your claim that "the estimate of 2000 deaths was based on a higher estimate of Kosovar-Albanian casualties than Wheeler was using". You haven't, as far as I can see, provided one.

Since we are now discussing Kamm's third posting, and what he quotes from Chomsky's books there, I agree Chomsky does interpret Cook as referring to the preceding year. But you don't provide much to persuade me that interpretation was wrong. Yes, Cook referred to the ceasefire, but not in a manner that suggested his comments on deaths were confined to the period following it.

As for the idea that "Kamm knew the truth about the context of Robertson's and Cook's statements", I scarcely know where to start. He knew which parliamentary record Chomsky was referring to because Chomsky says so in his book on a page that Kamm read. Kamm, characteristically, demonstrated no special knowledge while claiming a great deal. I certainly see no reason at all, based on what he has presented, to credit Kamm with greater insight into Cook's meaning.

7:10 pm  
Anonymous Dieter said...

You're probably right about Kamm. I was actually focusing on Chomsky's arguments about killings in Kosovo before Nato's intervention in his books Failed States and Hegemony or Survival (where Chomsky quotes Robertson). Despite Kamm's sophistry, I think that his point (ie. British government statements on killings in Kosovo up to Jan 1999 referred only to the post-ceasefire period) is probably correct since the British government had been arguing in the build-up to the war that Serbians were committing most of the atrocities. Similarly, because the figure of 2000 deaths in Kosovo in 1998 was from Nato sources, I think it must be predicated on a higher estimate of Albanian civilian casualties. In fact, the only google search results of this 2000 figure that do not use Chomsky as a source are accompanied with the claim that most of the dead were Albanians. Therefore I believe Chomsky was not entitled to argue as he did. Do you not think Chomsky is smart enough to have known he could only use those arguments with precise, unambiguous evidence

9:50 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

I don't have either of those books in front of me. Can you tell me what Chomsky quotes from Robertson?

I should point out that Chomsky covers this subject in more detail in two other books: The New Military Humanism and A New Generation Draws a Line. I believe there is more information on the sources in these, although I doubt they will resolve everything.

I think that [Kamm's] point (ie. British government statements on killings in Kosovo up to Jan 1999 referred only to the post-ceasefire period) is probably correct since the British government had been arguing in the build-up to the war that Serbians were committing most of the atrocities.

Can you point me to a source on this? I don't disagree that the British government emphasised atrocities committed by the Serbs, but where did they directly suggest more deaths had arisen from Serbian actions rather than KLA actions before the ceasefire? If they did indeed make this suggestion, why was it not mentioned in Cook's statement? It seems at the least a serious public relations failure to neglect to mention this while admitting one's allies have killed more people than one's enemies in the last few months.

This leads me to another point. Whether or not the Cook statement referred only to the preceding 3 months, it doesn't change the fact that the bombing occurred after a sustained period during which the KLA, rather the people being bombed, were responsible for the majority of deaths. Chomsky's basic point, that the bombing was not in fact provoked by killing of ethnic Albanians, is bolstered by Cook's statement either way.

Similarly, because the figure of 2000 deaths in Kosovo in 1998 was from Nato sources, I think it must be predicated on a higher estimate of Albanian civilian casualties.

I'm sorry, but I don't see that we have the evidence to reach that conclusion. I agree the methodologies behind the 2000 and 500 figures are key to knowing whether they are comparable, and Chomsky does not give enough detail to know if they are. But assuming the 2000 figure was based on higher Albanian casualties purely because it came from Nato? That seems a stretch.

I don't know which Google results you're looking at, but what I want is a reliable guide to both figures' origins. Without that I don't believe we can reach a conclusion either way.

10:47 pm  
Anonymous Dieter said...

Yes, I concede that Chomsky's basic point about the bombing is a good one. The relevant pages of Failed States (p.99) and Hegemony or Survival (p.55-57) can be read with Google Book Search; I think Kamm quotes some of it in the post I linked above. I also agree that it is impossible to find anything conclusive via the Internet that would decide these issues either way. However, given the huge military imbalance between the Serbian security forces and the KLA, it would be indeed be astonishing if the KLA killed more people in 1998. Indeed, there is a context of an imbalance of military forces and the vicious nature of the Serbian counter-insurgency in which the analysis must take place. That's why I would be very dubious of the way Chomsky analysed the figures and statements here, and why I think he ought to have known to be more careful. Thanks for your time.

12:53 am  
Blogger StuartA said...

I agree that Chomsky should have been more careful with casualty figure sourcing, not least because debates about it obscure the point he was making.

The Robertson testimony does not help your case. He says the same thing as Cook, again without saying that the killings he refers to were only after the ceasefire. His and Cook's testimony are enough, in my view, to support Chomsky's claim about Serbian versus Albanian killings. Kamm was wrong on this too.

2:13 am  
Anonymous WyseMan said...

The Lancet published a study in 2000 which estimates that there were 2,000 excess Albanian deaths due to the conflict in the year before the intervention and 10,000 in the months after until NATO troups entered. Apart from Cook's and Robertson's statements, Chomsky has no evidence to support his claim that the KLA killed more in the year before the intervention, and it is not at all clear what period Cook and Robertson are talking about. Why is Chomsky making this claim when there is contrary evidence and when it is likely to be untrue?

Lancet study:
http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0140673600024041

6:07 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

I don't have access to that Lancet article you found on Wikipedia, so I can't comment on it. You have also not specified which claim of Chomsky's "is likely to be untrue".

Apart from Cook's and Robertson's statements, Chomsky has no evidence...

There is no evidence that Cook and Robertson were confining their statements to a shorter period. I just went over this.

7:58 pm  
Anonymous WyseMan said...

I didn't find the Lancet study on Wikipedia; I read about it on Marko Attila Hoare's site Greater Surbiton along with great fiskings of Chomsky, Pilger et al. The abstract of the Lancet article should be free to view. Obviouly I meant that Chomsky's claim that the KLA killed more people in the year prior to NATO's intervention is probably untrue. It's no suprise to me that Chomsky makes false claims about Kosovo since he had already made the false claim that the Srebrenica massacre was "much lesser" than killings in East Timor in 1999 (here).

9:12 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

The abstract of the Lancet article should be free to view.

Like I said, I can't read the article. Therefore I won't be commenting on it.

Obviouly I meant that Chomsky's claim that the KLA killed more people in the year prior to NATO's intervention is probably untrue.

All I saw was Chomsky reporting Cook and Robertson's claim to this effect.

...the false claim that the Srebrenica massacre was "much lesser" than killings in East Timor in 1999 (here).

I don't see that claim on the page to which you link. Please quote the words where he made it.

1:06 am  
Anonymous WyseMan said...

Chomsky didn't just report Cook and Robertson's claim; he himself makes the claim indirectly by saying that Nicholas Wheeler's study implies that the KLA killed more in the year prior to NATO's intervention. On the page I gave in my previous comment, Chomsky says that if people condemn Indonesia's crimes in East Timor as genocide, then "they have a right to use the term 'genocide' in the case of the terrible but much lesser crimes of Racak and Srebrenica." He also suggests that the killings in East Timor in 1999 were "incomparably worse" than Racak and Srebrenica. This is tantamount to minimisation of the Srebrenica massacre and shows that he must believe the nonsense peddled by Diana Johnstone and Edward Herman.

4:32 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

Apart from Cook's and Robertson's statements, Chomsky has no evidence to support his claim that the KLA killed more in the year before the intervention

Chomsky didn't just report Cook and Robertson's claim; he himself makes the claim indirectly by saying that Nicholas Wheeler's study implies that the KLA killed more in the year prior to NATO's intervention.

These statements are contradictory. Which is it?

On the page I gave in my previous comment, Chomsky says that if people condemn Indonesia's crimes in East Timor as genocide, then "they have a right to use the term 'genocide' in the case of the terrible but much lesser crimes of Racak and Srebrenica."

And?

He also suggests that the killings in East Timor in 1999 were "incomparably worse" than Racak and Srebrenica. This is tantamount to minimisation of the Srebrenica massacre and shows that he must believe the nonsense peddled by Diana Johnstone and Edward Herman.

Utter garbage. Believing Indonesian crimes in East Timor were worse than the massacres at Racak and Srebrenica is not "tantamount to minimisation of the Srebrenica massacre". Nor does it mean that he "must believe" some random claim from Johnstone or Herman.

6:46 pm  
Anonymous WyseMan said...

OK, OK but you're splitting hairs. I concede that Robertson and Cook's statement does provide some evidence to Chomsky's claim but it is not certain what period they were referring to. Also Nicholas Wheeler's study does not imply that the KLA killed more in the year before the intervention, though Chomsky claims it does; Nicholas Wheeler merely says that about 500 Albanians were killed in the year prior to the intervention. To be precise, Chomsky argues (wrongly I think) that there is good reasons to believe that the KLA killed more people in the year before the intervention. Is this not pretty much the same thing as saying Chomsky claims that the KLA killed more people in the year before the intervention? Isn't it splitting hairs to say that those two things are different? Furthermore, if Chomsky believes that less than 5000-6000 died in the Srebrenica massacre, as he implies when he says that the Srebrenica massacre was "much lesser" than the 5000-6000 killed in East Timor in 1999, then it leads me to believe that he may have accepted his friends Diana Johnstone and Ed Herman's claims that only a few hundred were executed in Srebrenica. He did call Diana Johnstone's book an "outstanding work" after all and he has not spoken out against Herman and Johnstone's involvement in the Srebrenica Research Group.

7:31 pm  
Anonymous WyseMan said...

Incidentally, in what way are those two statements contradictory?

9:03 pm  
Anonymous WyseMan said...

Also you asked for the exact words where Chomsky says that the Srebrenica massacre was "much lesser" than the East Timor massacres and I gave it to you. Why did you reply with "And?"?? I'd appreciate it if you dealt with the substance of what I'm writing rather than criticising the way I write it or other irrelevant criticisms.

9:09 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

Nicholas Wheeler's study does not imply that the KLA killed more in the year before the intervention, though Chomsky claims it does; Nicholas Wheeler merely says that about 500 Albanians were killed in the year prior to the intervention.

This has been done to death, here and elsewhere. Chomsky is comparing Wheeler's 500 figure for Albanian deaths with an overall figure of 2000 deaths taken from elsewhere. As I have already stated, the methodologies behind those two figures are not known, so neither is the validity of the comparison. That does not mean Chomsky mischaracterised Wheeler's book, as Kamm falsely claimed. Wheeler himself confirmed this.

To be precise, Chomsky argues (wrongly I think) that there is good reasons to believe that the KLA killed more people in the year before the intervention. Is this not pretty much the same thing as saying Chomsky claims that the KLA killed more people in the year before the intervention? Isn't it splitting hairs to say that those two things are different?

No, I don't agree that this is a hair-splitting difference. If Chomsky was talking about the intent behind the Nato bombing then it is relevant what the participating governments thought the casualty figures were before they started the bombing. That point stands whether or not those casualty estimates ultimately proved to be correct.

Furthermore, if Chomsky believes that less than 5000-6000 died in the Srebrenica massacre, as he implies when he says that the Srebrenica massacre was "much lesser" than the 5000-6000 killed in East Timor in 1999, then it leads me to believe that he may have accepted his friends Diana Johnstone and Ed Herman's claims that only a few hundred were executed in Srebrenica.

You simply do not have the evidence to make this leap. Chomsky has not stated that only a few hundred were killed at Srebrenica. Until he does, I am not going to attribute this belief to him. The evidence you have transmitted to me from Attila Hoare's blog is simply too insubstantial for such a serious claim.

Firstly, I reject the notion that one can attribute such belief to a commentator based on the exact wording of a spoken interview. People mis-speak. In this particular case, Chomsky refers to "the terrible but much lesser crimes of Racak and Srebrenica" immediately after a sentence that refers to "the death of about 1/3 of the population" of East Timor as well as killings in 1999. Was he referring just to killings in 1999, or killings in East Timor over the past few decades. I have no idea, and neither do you.

Secondly, even if one interprets Chomsky as referring only to 1999 deaths, he does not explicitly state that he believes the number of deaths at Srebrenica was less than the number of deaths in East Timor. He says the former was a "much lesser crime". There are metrics other than pure death counts to be taken into account when assessing the magnitude of a crime.

Thirdly, Chomsky clearly implies in that interview that he believes the overall casualties in East Timor for 1999 were greater than 5000-6000. He refers to "massacres... through 1999, leaving maybe 5-6000 civilian corpses... all BEFORE the paroxysm of terror in late August 1999". I don't know if he states elsewhere what he believes the overall 1999 casualty figures to be, but without knowing that figure I do not see how one can assess the truth of the "lesser crime" claim even if it is interpreted as referring strictly to death counts in 1999.

Incidentally, in what way are those two statements contradictory?

Because you first stated that Chomsky had "no evidence" apart from "Cook's and Robertson's statements", and then you stated that he also had Wheeler's book.

Why did you reply with "And?"

Apologies. I did not connect that statement with my request.

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