42/ Vickery on controversy
In general I agree with the points made by Serge Thion in his letter about the petition for Ben Kiernan and the attack on it by Julio Jeldres. There is, however, more to be said.
First, we must recognize the valid point made by Jeldres and Serge that the limited number of signers and the limited prominence of many of them did not justify the pretentious language of the petition. More people in Cambodia studies should have been asked to sign, and if they all refused, the petition should perhaps have been worded in a different way. More might have signed a different type of petition, one for example, which focused on the worthlessness of Morris and his attacks, rather than on the scholarly status of the backers of the petition.
Before going further I should perhaps answer the quite legitimate question which might now arise in the minds of readers of this as to why I signed the petition without trying to influence its language and purpose.
During the first six months of 1995 I was in Helsinki, and saw no US newspapers. I first heard of the Kiernan-Morris exchange when a journalist friend showed me a wire service summary after the first Morris letter to the Wall Street Journal, and asked me what it was all about. I immediately wrote to Kiernan and said that "now is the time to get Morris, since you have State Department backing for your project, and they cannot refuse" [quotation approximate; I no longer have a copy]. I put it this way because Morris has made his career by being useful to extreme right-wing groups and various agencies of the US regime, but in ways which permit them 'plausible deniability'. This explains the easy access he has to major right-wing press outlets.
Sometime later I received a fax from Kiernan asking me urgently to sign the petition which was ready for publication. At that moment I was about to embark on a trip to the Baltic states, and saw that there was no way to further influence the matter so I signed in order to oppose Morris. Otherwise, I might thave suggested to Kiernan that at the very least he should have gotten the signatures of the State Department Cambodia scholars, such as Timothy Carney, Charles Twining, and Franklin Huffman, of whom the last two were then in Phnom Penh as Ambassador and Cultural Affairs Officer. I would have suggested further that if they refused to support the personnel of, in a sense, their own project, Kiernan should demonstratively refuse to participate, and give warning that the US government was seeking to use this project as another channel of intervention in Cambodia.
Now for Jeldres. Thion was too kind to him. Jeldres is a Stephen Morris clone. Ever since he arrived in Australia as an apparent Pinochetist refugee from Allende he has become another of that group of right-wing pseudo-scholars who fill letters-to-the-editor columns with personal attacks, often factually untrue, on persons whose politics they dislike.
He claims that two of the signers of the petition had told him that they did not consider Kiernan fit for the job. Given Jeldres' record, this claim cannot be accepted as ipso facto true, any more than Morris' claims may be accepted. There is, however, a tinge of plausibility in Jeldres' assertion. If it is true, I wish to assert that the two persons concerned, knowing Jeldres' background, behaved dishonorably in expressing their lack of enthusiasm for Kiernan to him. They should have known how he would use it. Or, perhaps they were just being cautious in the game of academic politics. If Kiernan prevailed and came out with added prestige, they would be on record as having supported him; if on the other hand the Morris-Jeldres crowd forced Kiernan out, they could say, well, we always thought he was unsuitable.
This is a provisional end. Participants and outsiders as well are welcome to comment or introduce other relevant documents. This file can be found on the Web at Sophal's site, <http://www.princeton.edu/~sophal/serge> Thanks to him. [The site haas changed and this File is no more visible there -- 1999]
For any question pertaining to this file, contact <[email protected]> (1999)