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Chomsky Backpedals on "Silent Genocide" in Afghanistan

by Brian Carnell Friday, Jun. 04, 2004 at 6:43 PM

In December, Noam Chomsky continued to spin his 2001 claim that U.S. military action in Afghanistan constituted a "silent genocide" that would result in millions of deaths in that country. Chomsky wants to engage in Clinton-esque parsing of his words, so lets revisit what Chomsky said prior to the U.S. initiation of hostilities against Afghanistan. On October 11, 2001, Chomsky said,

After the first week of bombing, the New York Times reported on a back page inside a column on something else, that by the arithmetic of the United Nations there will soon be 7.5 million Afghans in acute need of even a loaf of bread and there are only a few weeks left before the harsh winter will make deliveries to many areas totally impossible, continuing to quote, but with bombs falling the delivery rate is down to 1/2 of what is needed. Casual comment. Which tells us that Western civilization is anticipating the slaughter of, well do the arithmetic, 3-4 million people or something like that. On the same day, the leader of Western civilization dismissed with contempt, once again, offers of negotiation for delivery of the alleged target, Osama bin Laden, and a request for some evidence to substantiate the demand for total capitulation. It was dismissed. On the same day the Special Rapporteur of the UN in charge of food pleaded with the United States to stop the bombing to try to save millions of
victims. . . .

Well we could easily go on . . . .but all of that . . . .first of all indicates to us what’s happening. Looks like what’s happening is some sort of silent genocide. It also gives a good deal of insight into the elite culture, the culture that we are part of. It indicates that whatever, what will happen we don’t know, but plans are being made and programs implemented on the assumption that they may lead to the death of several million people in the next few months . . . .very casually with no comment, no particular thought about it, that’s just kind of normal, here and in a good part of Europe.
Of course what happened was that the U.S./Northern Alliance combination rolled through Afghanistan so quickly that the World Food Program and others were able to meet goals for food shipment that likely would not have been met under the Taliban's rule.

Shortly afterward, on November 10, 2001, Chomsky tried to spin his claims by saying that millions might still die from starvation -- the world would simply never know because no one would bother to investigate (apparently Chomsky still hasn't learned from his Cambodian fiasco that large numbers of deaths will inevitably show up in population statistics -- it's almost impossible to hide large scale deaths). At that time, Chomsky said,

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) had already warned, even before the bombing, that over seven million people would face starvation if military action were initiated. After the bombing began, it advised that the threat of a humanitarian catastrophe in the short term was very grave, and furthermore that the bombing has disrupted the planting of 80 per cent of the country's grain supplies, so that the effects next year will be even more severe.

What the effects will be, we will never know. Starvation is not something that kills people instantly. People eat roots and leaves and they drag on for a while. And the effects of starvation may be the death of children born from malnourished mothers a year or two from now, and all sorts of consequences. Furthermore, nobody's going to look because the West is not interested in such things and others don't have the resources.

The last paragraph is ridiculous for somebody such as Chomsky to make. If there had been large scale starvation deaths from starvation, it would have been almost impossible to hide.

Fast forward two years, and a reader of the Independent asked Chomsky, "Where is the 'silent genocide' you predicted would happen in Afghanistan if the US intervened there in 2001?" to which Chomsky replied (emphasis added),

That is an interesting fabrication, which gives a good deal of insight into the prevailing moral and intellectual culture. First the facts: I predicted nothing. Rather, I reported the grim warnings from virtually every knowledgeable source that the attack might lead to an awesome humanitarian catastrophe, and the bland announcements in the press that Washington had ordered Pakistan to eliminate "truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population."

All of this is precisely accurate and entirely appropriate. The warnings remain accurate as well, a truism that should be unnecessary to explain. Unfortunately, it is apparently necessary to add a moral truism: actions are evaluated in terms of the range of anticipated consequences.

There are numerous problems with Chomsky's attempted spin.

First, as Damian Penny noted,

http://www.damianpenny.com/archived/002028.html

Chomsky is correct that he did not predict that the "silent genocide" would happen in the future. Rather he claimed it was already happening ("Looks like what's happening is some sort of silent genocide.")

Second, Chomsky did not simply report aid agencies' claims. All the FAO did was note that seven million people were already facing food instability and that disruptions of food aid would likely create a dire situation for those people. Chomsky alone made the absurd leap that since aid shipments were being cut in half that the U.S. and its allies were planning to murder 3.5 million people.

Finally, Chomsky's view here is extraordinarily hypocritical in light of his longstanding claims about his claims about the Cambodian genocide. The rule seems to be this -- if Chomsky ignores direct testimonies of an ongoing genocide in order to declare it a myth, that is okay and understandable even if more than one million people are subsequently murdered. After all, you just can't believe those untrustworthy refugees. If the United States initiates military action despite hypothetical concerns from the FAO and the result is that not only is there no starvation but, in fact, more people are fed as a result than under the fascist Islamic government that was replaced, that this was an unconscionable act by the American imperialists.

Yeah, it's all crystal clear now.
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'his claims about the Cambodian genocide' Sheepdog Friday, Jun. 04, 2004 at 7:15 PM
Good article Barney Saturday, Jun. 05, 2004 at 2:01 AM
OneEyedMan KPC Saturday, Jun. 05, 2004 at 7:56 AM

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