15/ Kiernan replies, 1984.
Centre of Southeast Asian Studies
The Wall Street Journal.
22 Cortland St., NY, 10007
30 August 1984
In his latest attempt to discredit Professor Noam Chomsky, Stephen Morris (Wall Street Journal, August 15, 1984) chides him for having quoted "the accounts of veteran pro-Hanoi researchers, such as Ben Kiernan". I take this to be something of a compliment, since I was twenty-four years old at the time.
More interestingly, however, Morris' previous attempt noted contradictorily that my work in 1977 had only been published in "a journal specifically designed for student contributions" and another "open to professors as well as graduate students," (Harvard International Review, December-January 1981, p. 31) Perhaps Morris, a student who describes himself as a "researcher," feels he can now claim the title of "veteran" too. This would give him the right to complain that Chomsky has ignored his work, but not to claim any scholarly credibility.
As for my "pro-Hanoi" research up to 1977, it amounted to a 1975 interview with a Vietnamese Buddhist neutralist. I was in fact more sympathetic then to the Khmer Rouge than to Hanoi (as the US government is now), in part precisely because the former were so obviously independent of the latter.
Morris has noted my 1976 "hypothesis that perhaps [Morris' emphasis] Khmer Rouge terror was localized to the northwest of the country and not a result of central state direction," and that I later "admitted [I] was wrong about Pol Pot." In 1978 I indeed admitted that I had misjudged the brutal Khmer Rouge regime: its independence obviously did not make up for its massacres of its citizens or give it the right to ferociously attack its neighbours.
On the other hand, Western governments have gone on to vote in favour of seating the ousted Pol Pot regime in the United Nations, as the legal representative of the people it decimated from 1975 to 1979.
My account of four months in Kampuchea in 1980, investigating the Pol Pot legacy, appears in Peasants and Politics in Kampuchea 1942-1981 (NY, M. E. Sharpe, 1982). To Morris, this makes me "pro-Hanoi." On the other hand, Asian Wall Street Journal reporter Barry Wain, in his admired study of Indochinese refugees, The Refused (p. 272), describes mine as "the most authoritative independent assessment" of the death toll under Pol Pot i.e., around 1.5 million people. Morris' article on "The Left's Selective Moral Outrage" finds no space to comment on the reasons for the Pol Pot flag still flying over New York.