“Dear Nicholas Roberts:
I presume you understand that Chomsky and I greatly expanded and improved Counterrevolutionary Violence in the two volume set we put out in 1979 under the general heading of the Political Economy of Human Rights. In the first volume, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, we had a Prefatory Note that describes the suppression of CRV.
If you want to put CRV onto the Web, it is important that you add a prefatory note pointing out that CRV was greatly expanded and improved in a two volume set, the first volume, [title], the second volume After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology, both still available from South End Press.
If you do that, maybe adding something about the Prefatory Note on the History of the Suppression of the First Edition, you have our permission to go ahead.
Sincerely, Edward Herman”
The Web Edition Web-Publishing Team
Scan by Richard Wann
Scan Edit by Paul Dagarin
Mark-up by Healy
Published by Nicholas Roberts
Copyright 1973 and 2004 by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman. May not be reprinted without permission.
COUNTER - REVOLUTIONARY VIOLENCE: BLOODBATHS IN FACT AND PROPAGANDA by
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Edward S. Herman
University of Pennsylvania
With a Preface by
Richard A. Falk
A Warner Modular Publication
Title Code: CHCR Module 57 (1973) pp.1-46
Copyright 1973 by Warner Modular Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may by reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 73-13042
George HARPOOTLIAN, Associate Publisher
SUGGESTED CITATION Noam Chomsky and Edward S Herman, “Counter-Revolutionary Violence: Bloodbaths in Fact and Propaganda,” Andover, Mass.: Warner Modular Publications, Inc., Module 57 (1973), pp.1-46.
All original publications appear first as separate modules. Most modules will appear in one collection; many will appear in several. To facilitate research use, all modules are numbered serially, and each module carries the same number in all incarnations.
(Andover: Warner Modular Publications, 1973)
The original source for this text is taken from: http://web.archive.org/web/20040611022032/mass-multi-media.com/CRV/
For a note on the reaction to this text by Warner Communications seeT:
3) Benign and Constructive Bloodbaths
a) Post-Colonial Rot and Counterrevolutionary Terror
b) Thailand: A Corrupt “Firm Base”
c) Benign and Constructive Bloodbaths: East Pakistan, Burundi, and Indonesia
d) Repacification in the Philippines
4) Constructive Bloodbaths in Vietnam
a) French and Diemist Bloodbaths
b) The Overall U.S. Assault as the Primary Bloodbath
c) “Operation Speedy Express”
d) The 43-Plus My Lais of the South Korean Mercenaries
e) Phoenix: A Case Study of Indiscriminate “Selective” Terror
5) Nefarious and Mythical Bloodbaths in Vietnam
a) Revolutionary Terror in Theory and Practice
b) Mythical Bloodbaths in Vietnam
c) Land Reform in the Mid-Fifties
d) The Hue Massacres of 1968
6) Accelerating Bloodbath in South Vietnam
a) The Thieu Police State
b) Saigon's Political Prisoners and the Accelerating Bloodbath
a) Report by Jane and David Barton, “Indochina - Quang Ngai Province Five Months After The Peace Agreement” (June 20,1973)
The American public will be slow to connect My Lai to Watergate, and yet that link is embedded in the political consciousness of those who are guiding the destinies of this country. Just as the Watergate burglaries of the Democratic National Committee headquarters were but a stitch in the fabric of illegal and criminal government, so My Lai was no more than a particularly horrible example of the American “game plan” in the Vietnam War. The gruesome sequence of atrocity, frantic cover-up, unintended expose, hypocritical expression of humanitarian concern by commanders and rulers, and desperate public relations efforts to confine the blame to the triggermen is manifest in both settings.
Americans are fascinated by the Mafia, but very few citizens of this country believed until recently that the brutalities and deceptions of organized crime were also characteristic of government operations. We can be thankful, I suppose, that the United States government is not yet as efficient as the Mafia (whose skill has been built up over generations and whose personnel have been conditioned from birth) when it comes to hiding the traces of their crimes, cutting short the investigative trail, and screening out the occasional honest and principled operative.
This monograph by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, both renowned and careful scholars who have struggled over the years to present the truth about the Vietnam War, makes a major contribution to our understanding of the present posture of American foreign policy in general and the character of the persisting involvement in Indochina in particular. Their account of the role of falsification in official presentations of facts and interpretations designed to maintain public support and discredit anti-Vietnam criticism is part of a larger canvas of distortion that is characteristic of U.S. policy toward poorer and less fortunate peoples throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The specific subject of this book is the systematic manipulation of the facts surrounding war atrocities, but its implications are far broader. Such manipulation of horror stories seems cynical beyond easy belief, even for those of us who have gradually become hardened critics of government behavior.
Chomsky and Herman document beyond serious question the extent to which the United States government has engaged in and hidden crimes on our side in the Indochina War and fabricated a bloodbath myth to explain why we must continue to kill on a massive scale. Such a pattern of double deceit intends to convince the American public that we fight as men of conscience to protect our threatened friends from a horribly cruel enemy who is poised to massacre.
Professors Chomsky and Herman present convincing evidence on four principal concerns:
First, that this double deceit has been a systematic element in the official policy of our government over the years of American involvement in Indochina, although it has been carried to new extremes of blatancy during the Nixon presidency.
Secondly, that this pattern of distortion is imposed so effectively that it even envelops most citizens who oppose the war.
Thirdly, that America's world role as chief sponsor of counter-insurgency enterprises in the Third World has led beyond the distortion of information and included active participation, directly and indirectly, in the actual perpetration of atrocities.
Fourthly, that these morbid realities of distortion and participation have led to a widespread poisoning of the language of political discourse and the overall ethics of governance, making the public swallow official lies and numbing euphemisms about bloodletting of the innocent as integral to national security.
Indeed, it almost seems as if a prominent war critic loses his credibility if he questions or rejects official orthodoxy on questions of atrocity and bloodbath. It is noteworthy that such widely acclaimed and influential war critics as Bernard Fall and Frances FitzGerald blandly transmit official deceptions on such issues as the land reform purge of 1956 in North Vietnam or the 1968 Hue massacre. I do not mean to suggest that these usually reliable authors are willing instruments of such deceptions, but only that the official lie has been told so commandingly that it is troublesome for even honest and dedicated journalists to set the record straight. It is also well to acknowledge that the real facts are so provocative on these touchy issues that most efforts to depict them offend mainstream readers and reviewers and encourages the ironic reaction that a particular author has gone “overboard” and is no longer to he trusted. It is positively Orwellian to appreciate that one's credibility as a war critic has depended more on adhering to official false- hoods than on their documented exposure and correction.
What is at stake here is more than the possibility of reasoned discourse in a liberal democracy. The veil of secrecy and deception used to invert the identity of criminal and victim in Vietnam also underlies the basic pattern of American involvement everywhere in the Third World, and, as well, characterizes government relations with minority peoples in the United States. It remains almost impossible to make this case of pervasive distortion in any influential forum and, as a consequence, there is almost no present hope of repudiating these most reprehensible aspects of American foreign policy. The people who brought us the Indochina War are each day quietly achieving the same disastrous results in a score of other hapless countries around the world. Chomsky and Herman make it clear that this wider orbit of terror, sponsored and financed by Washington, persists even in Vietnam despite the illusion that we have ended our involvement there. And who would dare speculate confidently on the extent of our role in the daily horrors inflicted on opponents of repressive regimes in such countries as Greece, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Uruguay, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, South Africa, Iran?
Richard Nixon is a President who claims that it is a prerogative of his office to bomb foreign countries day after day in secret, to falsify Defense Department reports, and then to authorize “national security” wiretaps on his highest aides when such information is leaked to the press. Even now, amid the furor over Watergate, Nixon refuses to disclose the grisly statistics on sorties, tonnage, and targets in the Cambodia air war. Perhaps we can understand President Nixon's reluctance to release information by considering the explanation given by Mrs. Merry Dawson for her son's (Capt. Donald Dawson) unwillingness to pilot any further B-52 missions over Cambodia: “He felt they weren't bombing anything but people.” The long history of Congressional and public acquiescence in the distortion and suppression of truth has taken its toll. One consequence is that all elements in the governing process are disabled and the polity as a whole dispirited. The moral rot is so widely dispersed by now that it seems likely that a full revelation of the ugly truth about American bombing in Cambodia would be greeted by one more shrug of the shoulders, as if genocidal policies are just about what we have come to expect from our leaders. Unless we can overcome this sense of helplessness and indifference there is no prospect at all that the forces of evil which have held sway for so long can be removed from power, or at least dissuaded from following their impulses.
Indeed, when we audit the bloody balancesheet of counter-insurgency, as Chomsky and Herman have done, we realize that “the White House horrors” associated with the domestic “pacification” work of “the plumbers' is virtually benign by comparison to the catalogue of White House horrors we ignore or accept as routine in foreign relations. Surely Nixon's list of enemies is child's play compared with the monthly execution lists of the Phoenix Program in South Vietnam. There is a danger - I wouldn't yet describe it as a plan - abetted by those sensible men who write editorials and headlines for the New York Times, that we will mobilize all of our moral energies of disgust and reform in relation to the Watergate agenda while practically winking at our official complicity in the bloody deeds of our friends and helpmates in repressive regimes around the world.
In addition to worrying about the exact dimensions of Richard Nixon's involvement in the Watergate burglary - which in this wider perspective can be dismissed as “a third-rate burglary” - we should insist that a Senate Select Committee also examine the compelling charge made against Nixon by Prince Norodom Sihanouk:
We formally accuse him of being the sole person responsible for the war ... He is the arch criminal with the death of tens of thousands of Cambodians on his conscience. (New York Times, July 12, 1973)
Not to mention tens of thousands more in Thailand, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam! In light of such grim realities, the “gentleman's agreement” between the White House and Congress to go on bombing Cambodia until mid-August 1973, reeks with a stench of degeneracy far stronger than anything contemplated by the debased minds of Segretti, Hunt, Liddy, et al.
The main purpose of Chomsky and Herman is to expose in convincing form the Big Lie as it has been told by the United States government in relation to atrocities. This Lie has been told by our leaders because they were either embarrassed by the truth or fearful of its political consequences. According to John Dean, Nixon's anxieties were capable of being aroused on one occasion by a lone demonstrator in Lafayette Park. But the issue cannot be disposed of by reference to the condition of Mr. Nixon's psyche. John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson are deeply implicated in the double lie that allows us to go on and on killing innocent people in distant lands with a clear conscience. From what hidden reserves of national decency can we find the strength to face this awful truth? And what can we possibly do about it? There are no easy answers, no prospect of a “quick-fix,” but this monograph provides firm ground.
Richard A. Falk
“Bloodbath” is a familiar word to Americans. Commonly, the term is applied to describe alleged enemy acts of violence and terror against civilian populations - past, present and prospective (in the event that our side did or does not triumph). In the official version of recent Vietnamese history, for example,only we and our spunky Saigon ally have stood between the 17 million people of South Vietnam and a bloodbath by the barbarian hordes of North Vietnam (DRV) and their southern arm, the Vietcong. The impression conveyed in the standard media fare is one of humanitarian concern for the victims of “violence” on the part of American leaders; the public has been led to believe that American policies in Vietnam have been shaped to some degree by the resort to violence and threat of a bloodbath on the part of others.
Even a cursory examination of recent history, however, suggests that concern over violence and bloodbaths in Washington (in Moscow and Peking as well) is highly selective. Some bloodbaths seem to be looked upon as “benign” or even positive and constructive; only very particular ones are given publicity and regarded as heinous and deserving of indignation. For example, after the CIA-sponsored right-wing coup in Cambodia in March 1970, Lon Nol quickly organized a pogrom-bloodbath against local Vietnamese in an effort to gain peasant support. Estimates of the numbers of victims of this slaughter range upward from 5000 (1) and grisly reports and photographs of bodies floating down tlie rivers were filed by western correspondents. The United States and its client government in Saigon invaded Cambodia shortly thereafter, but not to stop the bloodbath or avenge its victims; on the contrary, these forces moved in to support the organizers of the slaughter, who were on the verge of being overthrown.
The small-scale and “benign” Lon Nol bloodbath, of course, was followed by a much more substantial “constructive” bloodbath mainly in the form of firepower carried out by the United States and its Saigon affiliate. In the words of one observer with an intimate knowledge of Cambodia (2): Cambodia has been subjected in its turn to destruction by American air power. The methodical sacking of economic resources, of rubber plantations and factories, of rice fields and forests, of peaceful and delightful villages which disappeared one after another beneath the bombs and napalm, has no military justification and serves essentially to starve the population. Refers to footnotes appearing at the back of this module Those who paid close attention to the American slaughter of Cambodians in 1970 would have had no reason to be surprised by the intensive bombing of heavily populated civilian areas in a last-ditch effort to save the collapsing U.S.-backed regime three years later. This was simply a minor variant of a policy, consistently pursued in Cambodia, which President Nixon has called “the Nixon doctrine in its purest form.” (3)
The regularly publicized and condemned bloodbaths, whose victims are worthy of serious concern, often turn out, upon close examination, to be fictional in whole or in part. These mythical or semi-mythical bloodbaths have served an extremely important public relations function in mobilizing support for American military intervention in other countries. This has been particularly true in the case of Vietnam. Public opinion has tended to be negative and the war-makers have had to strain mightily to keep the American people in line. The repeated resort to fabrication points up the propagandistic role that the 'bloodbath” has played in Washington's devoted attention to this subject. The evidence on myth creation (discussed below) also makes obvious the fact that stories emanating from this source, whether produced by the military, intelligence, or state-affiliated “scholarship” should be evaluated by the standards and methods normally employed in assessing the output of any Ministry of Propaganda.
The great public relations lesson of Vietnam, nevertheless, is that the “big lie” can work despite occasional slippages of a free press. Not only can it survive and provide valuable service regardless of entirely reasonable and definitive refutations (4), but certain patriotic truths also can be established firmly for the majority by constant repetition. With the requisite degree of cooperation by the mass media, the government can engage in “atrocities management” with almost assured success, by means of sheer weight of information releases, the selective use of reports of alleged enemy acts of atrocity, and the creation and embroidery of bloodbath stories and myths. These myths never die; they are pulled from the ashes and put forward again and again, although repudiating evidence is readily available. For example, the New York Times has given significant space to claims of mass murders by the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (NLF) at Hue twice within the last year - the first claiming with assurance 5700 murders, the most recent 2800, and neither citing any specific source of evidence. (5) As we show below, this myth is concocted from the confusion of many deaths and mass graves (the bulk apparently occupied by victims of “allied” firepower) and the deliberate mistranslation and misinterpretation of documents by the Saigon - U.S. propaganda machine. But with the New York Times' concept of “balance,” official lies are entitled to their fair share of space. In general, this amount of space usually is rather more substantial than that allotted to the low-keyed refutations that may be permitted to present the “other side” of the question. With this balance of opinion, plus official domination of news releases and run-of-the-mill editorialists and columnists, atrocity myths can be institutionalized.
At the same time, our own atrocities can be dismissed as the “unintended consequences of military action,” (6) or as an historical inevitability for which we bear no responsibility (7), or as “isolated incidents” for which the guilty are punished under our system of justice. The more fanatic state apologists can thus conclude from the Vietnam experience that (8)
...there are nations more civilized than others, for reasons of history and providence however freakish. We would not, in America, in this day and age, treat prisoners of war in the way the Vietnamese did. And we are, however humbly, reminded that we fought in Indochina to repel the atavistic forces that gave historical and moral justification to the torture and humiliation of the individual.
More balanced minds perceive that “unfortunately, the record is not unflawed” and that “the highest United States authorities cannot escape responsibility” for certain “violations of the spirit if not the letter of international law...even if the violations were not expressions of official policy” - while insisting, to be sure, that the “damning indictment of the Vietnamese communists...cannot be erased by the pious denials of the North Vietnamese or their apologists in this country” and that a compelling case can and should be made against the North Vietnamese for their clear violations of the Geneva Convention of 1949. (9)
A discussion of the machinery of atrocities management and the reasons for its continued success is beyond the scope of this monograph, which has a more modest purpose. We attempt here to establish, first, that bloodbaths are not necessarily considered bad in the perspective of the American leadership; they may be unremarkable, benign, or positively meritorious. A large proportion of the really huge bloodbaths of the past two decades, in fact, have been viewed in this light by Washington (with some directly administered or indirectly engineered). It seems to us an elementary and obvious truth that the leadership in the United States, as a result of its dominant position and wide ranging counter-revolutionary efforts, has been the most important single instigator, administrator, and moral and material sustainer of serious bloodbaths in the years that followed World War II.
After presenting some illustrations of benign and constructive bloodbaths, we turn to some of the nefarious and mythical bloodbaths that have played important roles in the defense of U.S. intervention in Vietnam. We examine in particular the relative levels and strategies of violence employed by Saigon, the United States, and the revolutionary forces, the 1955-56 events in North Vietnam, and the Hue massacres of 1968. Finally we discuss the intensifying repression and threat to political prisoners in the charnel house the United States has built in South Vietnam - an illustration and application of the now long standing U.S. policy of support for “constructive” bloodbaths.