Talk:Noam Chomsky/Zmag forum reply re Radio Hanoi

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This is a comment made by Noam Chomsky and posted at,61. Because it is tricky to access that page (you have to sign up at first and then access the page), it is pasted here.

After that, there is a copy of an e-mail sent by Chomsky to User:DanKeshet.

See also (a right-wing attack on Chomsky, including the full text of the alleged broadcast), and (what Chomsky actually did write following his trip to Vietnam).

Full text[edit]

I'm rather scrupulous, in fact obsessive, about responding to the flood -- often hundreds -- of messages I receive every day, but some I instantly trash. Like this one, on which I'll comment briefly only because it is in the forum. The reason why I trash them at once, I explained in the introduction to my first collection of political essays, written almost 35 years ago, if you'd like a longer discussion. In brief, I pointed out -- and firmly believe -- that we demean ourselves by even entering into debate with Holocaust-deniers and other apologists for Nazi crimes, and -- transparently -- far more so in the case of those who share responsibility for those crimes and take pride in them. Sometimes it may be necessary to climb down into such cesspools, but if so, with proper disgust.

The analogy holds very clearly in the present case, as is obvious simply by reviewing what actually happened during the US attack against South Vietnam, then all of Indochina, one of the major crimes of the 20th century, from which the countries may never recover; thousands are still dying from the effects of chemical weapons, unexploded cluster bombs, and general devastation, years later.

As I wrote to someone else in the forum on another issue, if you want to immobilize yourself in such engagements, instead of using time and energy to try to do something about suffering and injustice in the world, that's your choice of course. If you want to pursue it any further, I'd request that you write to me personally, and not subject others to this.

Turning to your correspondent, he couldn't have cited what I said on Hanoi radio, because I never spoke on Hanoi radio. I did mention Le Duan in print, once, in an article reprinted in _At War With Asia_, 1970, one of two that described a visit to Laos and North Vietnam, where I was immersed in the atrocities that your correspondent so admires. You can read them and find out if you like. That included many hours interviewing refugees from the Plain of Jars in northern Laos, recently driven to miserable refugee camps near Vientiane after having barely survived several years of what was then the most intense bombing in history, and one of the most cruel, living in caves and trying to farm a bit at night. And in North Vietnam, mostly lecturing at the bombed-out ruins of the Polytechnic university in Hanoi during a brief bombing pause, also taking a few days to have a look at the ruins of the nearby countryside, awful enough, though nothing like what was reported by Western journalists and diplomats a little further from Hanoi, which was somewhat protected by the international presence, and a moonscape below the 20th parallel, though the slaughter, incredible destruction, and colossal war crimes were far worse in completely unprotected Laos and South Vietnam, always the main target of the US attack. Even several years before my visit to the scene of the crimes of which your correspondent is so proud, "Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity [was] threatened with extinction" while in the South, "the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size." I'm quoting Bernard Fall, shortly before he was killed in Vietnam in 1967. As I'm sure you know, he was the distinguished military historian and Vietnam specialist (highly respected by the far right, and by the US government, incidentally), a hawk who thought that Saigon should take over the whole country, but a person who cared about the people of Vietnam, and was therefore utterly disgusted what your correspondent finds acceptable if not marvellous. I never used the term "genocide" in referring to what Fall accurately described -- which had become far worse by 1970 when I got to see a small piece of it first-hand -- but if the term is to be used, it would be with reference to the unspeakable atrocities that your genial correspondent appears to find quite acceptable, and cheerfully takes credit for. Hence my initial comment.

The articles on Laos and North Vietnam were largely reports of what I saw and did, without much comment, as you can determine. In the chapter on NVN, I quoted a passage from a programmatic statement by Le Duan, adding only a brief skeptical comment. The alleged talk on Hanoi radio does not exist, as I mentioned, but the passage, which has been circulating among neo-Nazi clones for some years, could possibly be authentic. It's possible that some interchange during the visit was recorded and played on the radio. The passage has a few sentences describing a trip to the bombed-out countryside, then some polite and also noncommittal comments referring to the same programmatic statement by Le Duan. It's what I suppose any minimally decent human being might say in some interchange under such circumstances, which is, doubtless, why it so offends enthusiastic advocates of immense crimes -- "genocide," if the word is to be used at all -- with whom you are choosing to spend your time.

Instead of commenting further, I'll pose a question to you. Suppose some German anti-Nazi had spent a few weeks visiting regions under attack by the Nazis in occupied Europe and had visited partisans, expressing regrets for the horrors he had just seen for which he shared responsibility and some hope for the future, but without lecturing them on their terrorism (which was real) or their ideological convictions. Suppose then some passionate Nazi enthusiast were to fume about this in the manner of your correspondent. Would you spend even one moment on this disgusting performance? I assume not, and if so, why are you doing very much that?

Again, it's your choice, but I'll keep to the principle I suggested 35 years ago.

Noam Chomsky

Text of e-mail[edit]

Something appeared in FBIS in 1970, purporting to be a transcript of 
a speech of mine over radio Hanoi.  I never gave any speech over 
radio Hanoi, or anywhere.  It's possible that informal remarks were  
picked up of mine, or someone, at a meeting of some sort after Doug 
Dowd, Dick Fernandez and I spent a day travelling through parts of 
the bombed out countryside and some villages in the neighborhood of 
Hanoi, a pretty shattering experience.  Can't say any more than that. 
My own report was in the NY Review a few weeks later, reprinted in At 
War with Asia. This particular item has been circulating for about 30 
years, at least.