Dårarnas korståg – Jugoslavien, Nato och västliga
Noam Chomskys brev till Ordfront den 7 december 2003
I have heard from various friends in Sweden about an ongoing controversy
concerning Diana Johnstone's book on the Balkans. I have known her for
many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and
important. I also know that it has been very favorably reviewed, e.g.,
by the leading British scholarly journal International Affairs, journal
of the Royal Academy. I was therefore interested to learn of the criticisms
and the controversy, and took the trouble to investigate what was sent
to me. Some comments follow about what was sent to me, which I am assuming
to be accurate, for the sake of these comments. I am sending them in the
hope that they may be relevant to whatever discussions are taking place
A Swedish journalist sent me sections of an article in Svenska Dagbladet
"As witness to the truth, an author is interviewed, who in the spirit
of Noam Chomsky claims that the discourse on ethnic cleansing and genocide
in Yugoslavia is "the great lie, the heart of the myth." Such
events have not occurred, just "incidents."
The sender suggested that I respond, but of course I will not. There is
no need to dignify such gutter journalism with response. Evidently, no
journal that expects to be taken seriously would publish such slanders
without even a pretense of argumentor evidence, and that the fact that
it appears tells us a good deal about the standards of any journal that
would tolerate this practice.
Another document sent to me contains a number of charges:
(1) "According to her it cannot be a matter of genocide when women
and children are spared. But to me it is obvious that genocide and crimes
against humanity have been committed in Srebrenica…"
Reference is apparently to Johnstone's statement (p. 117) refuting the
claim that the charge of "genocide" is demonstrated by the fact
that the Serbs who conquered Srebrenica offered safe passage to women
and children. In response to this absurd claim, she writes: "However,
one thing should be obvious: one does not commit `genocide' by sparing
women and children.
I do not see how her entirely appropriate comment justifies the charge
(2) Johnstone "claims that the circa 40 persons who were killed in
the village of Racak were not civilians but Albanian guerilla fighters
which had been killed in fighting with Serbian police."
I read the section but could not find that claim.
3) "Johnstone asserts that more effort has gone into exaggerating
the number of dead than into identifying and caclulating the actual number
of victims, that there was never any real wish to find out how many were
killed and who they were. She suggests that several thousand hade fled
I read that section too. I am aware of no evidence -- of course, meaning
evidence available to her at the time she wrote -- that the statements
she actually made in this regard (as distinct from those attributed to
her) are incorrect.
4) "Mikael van Reis published an article in Göteborgs-Posten.
"… the revisionist author Diana Johnstone, foreground figure
in the slander-convicted magazine "Living Marxism". She insists
that the Serb atrocities - ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions
- are western propaganda. That is also what Slobodan Milosevic and his
ilk profess. Thus the Ordfront left is suddenly travelling in the same
compartment as postcommunist fascism."
I do not know van Reis, and hope that the quotation is incorrect. However,
if it is correct, it is quite remarkable.
Let us first consider the "slander-convicted magazine `Living Marxism'."
The case is important. LM was indeed convicted, and put out of business,
thanks to Britain's outrageous libel laws, denounced as scandalous worldwide
by everyone concernedwith the right of freedom of expression. In this
case, a huge corporation was able to put a small marginal journal out
of business by demanding the impossible, as Britain's miserable libel
laws require, and in the certain knowledge that the journal would be unable
to mount a defense given the ludicrous imbalance of resources.
Van Reis is, of course, entitled to hold, and express, his strong opposition
to freedom of speech: specifically, his doctrine, clearly expressed here,
that the rich and powerful should be able to use the power of the state
to silence opinion and reporting they do not like.
But putting that aside, let's now consider his reasoning. Johnstone argues
-- and, in fact, clearly demonstrates -- that a good deal of what has
been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication.
For van Reis, this is outrageous. Van Reis therefore is telling us, loud
and clear, that he not only is a dedicated opponent of freedom of speech,
but he believes with equal passion that it is critically important to
safeguard the right to lie -- not in the interests of freedom of expression,
which he strongly opposes, as just demonstrated -- but rather in one special
case: to lie in service of power and privilege.
Consider finally his interesting logic. Johnstone's actual statements
(the accuracy of which he rightly does not challenge) are also made by
Milosevic. Therefore, she and Ordfront are supporters of Milosevic's crimes.
And, by precisely the same argument, van Reis is a strong defender of
the Holocaust. The proof is elementary. His charges against Stalinist
crimes were also made by Goebbels, Himmler, and their apologists until
It is astonishing that anything like this should appear in print, in a
A final comment on "genocide." People are free to use the term
"genocide" as they please, and to condemn Racak and Srebrenica,
say, as genocidal if they like. But then they have a simple responsibility:
Inform us of their bitter denunciations of the incomparably worse "genocide"
carried out with the strong backing of the US and UK at the very same
moment as Racak. Say, the massacre at Liquica, with perhaps up to 200
civilians murdered, one of many (unlike Racak), in a country under military
occupation and hence a grave war crime (unlike Racak), and in this case
simply a massacre of civilians, without even a pretext of resistance (again
unlike Racak). Furthermore, unless the British government, the State Department,
NATO, the OSCE, and other impeccable Western sources are lying outright,
the Racak massacre was committed at a time when the KLA guerrillas were
carrying out terrorist attacks from their Albanian bases against Serbian
civilians and police, and were responsible for the majority of atrocities
(see, e.g., Lord Robertson and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, or the very
few serious scholarly studies, such as Nicholas Wheeler's -- who strongly
supports the NATO bombing but is so unfashionable as to report the results
of the massive Western documentation). And to continue, Swedes who display
their outrage over these examples of Serbian genocide clearly have the
duty of informing us of their far more bitter condemnations of the massacres
(again with decisive US-UK backing) through 1999, leaving maybe 5-6000
civilian corpses, according to the Church in East Timor and the leading
Western historian of Timor, the British scholar John Taylor --- all BEFORE
the paroxysm of terror in late August 1999, after which the US and UK
(and for all I know, Sweden) continued to support the Indonesian murderers
who were already responsible for the death of about 1/3 of the population
in pure aggression decisively supported by the US and UK (and when it
came time to make some profit from it, Sweden). Perhaps they have issued
bitter condemnations of their Western allies (and Sweden). If so, they
have a right to use the term "genocide" in the case of the terrible
but much lesser crimes of Racak and Srebrenica. And, needless to say,
this is only one trivial example of Western crimes in the same years.
I don't read Swedish journals of course, but it would be interesting to
learn how the Swedish press explains the fact that their interpretation
of Johnstone's book differs so radically from that of Britain's leading
scholarly foreign affairs journal, International Affairs. I mentioned
the very respectful review by Robert Caplan, of the University of Reading
and Oxford. It is obligatory, surely, for those who condemn Johnstone's
book in the terms just reviewed to issue still harsher condemnation of
International Affairs, as well as of the universities of Reading and Oxford,
for allowing such a review to appear, and for allowing the author to escapecensure.
That seems pretty straightforward.
To members of Ordfront and other interested parties:
As an admirer of Diana Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade and as a
participant in the controversy that has raged over that book, I was interested
to learn that it has been suggested that the outcome of the recent annual
meeting-- which reaffirmed her right be heard, in accordance with Ordfront's
stated ideals-- might discourage good writers from continuing their associations
with Ordfront. I therefore asked some of my friends who have published
with Ordfront for their view on that matter; their open letter is included
below. I also attach my review of Johnstone’s book, and my two letters
in response to Leif Ericsson’s attacks on Johnstone – letters
that he has failed to answer with any substance.
Please feel free to contact me for confirmation of the authors' joint
Edward S. Herman
Professor Emeritus of Finance, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Co-author with Noam Chomsky of Manufacturing Consent and The Political
Economy of Human Rights, and author of numerous other works on related
To whom it may concern:
We have been informed that the head of Ordfront’s publishing house
has expressed concern that the majority of the recent annual meeting and
the new Ordfront board, by insisting on the right of Diana Johnstone to
be heard, may jeopardize the willingness of good writers to work with
Ordfront. In fact, the opposite is true.
We regard Diana Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade as an outstanding
work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to
fact and reason, in a great tradition. But whatever opinion one may have
of that book, there are more fundamental issues at stake, namely freedom
of expression and the right to express dissenting views. We strongly support
the democratic majority of Ordfront’s recent annual meeting for
voting to reassert those principles, and to repudiate their abandonment
by the organization’s leadership in response to a propaganda onslaught
by mainstream Swedish media.
It is that onslaught and the leadership’s submission to it which
we find reprehensible. We wish to make it clear that, only to the extent
that Ordfront’s publishing house associates itself with such unprincipled
behavior would we be inclined to terminate our relationship with the organization.
Signed by the following Ordfront authors:
Läs debatten innan boken kommit
ut i Sverige.
Manifest bjuder på
skriver brev till sina vänner
Dear Swedish friends,
The news of the latest Ordfront meeting is pretty sickening. I am
of course most concerned about Björn Ecklund who has been the victim
of an outrageous injustice.
From my distant vantage point, and knowing none of the details of these
procedures, I can't help feeling that a more aggressive defense, based
on content as well as form, might have been more effective. At least it
could hardly have been worse.
I wanted to go to Sweden immediately in order to debate the issues raised
by the notorious interview in Ordfront.
As I understand things (and I may have this wrong), it was decided to
set aside any discussion of the content of the interview and base the
defense on "freedom of speech". For that reason, my own presence
was considered a possible distraction that could weaken the "freedom
of speech" issue.
I can't help feeling that this was a mistake. Editorial policy is
not the same as freedom of speech. If in fact my viewpoint was morally
and factually wrong, then giving it nine pages was an editorial error.
But everything changes if it is recognized that my work was factually
accurate and morally considerably above the level of my critics. I think
this was the issue and should have been at the center of the debate.
I hope now that this debate can be joined during my forthcoming trip to