Dead Men Left

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Genocide and "sardonic" laughter: it's that Kamm again

To be on the "civilised left" with the tabloid journalist Olver Kamm, it would seem necessary to not only maintain a thoroughgoing authoritarianism, but to issue near-apologetics for some the foulest crimes committed by the "civilised" West since World War Two. (This is, clearly, Western "civilisation" in the Gandhian sense of being a good idea if it actually existed.) Kamm has once again been indulging himself with the far-left press, happening on an interview with Noam Chomsky in the International Socialism Review. Chomsky remarks upon a recently printed New York Times article (unavailable without a fee), in which Henry Kissinger is quoted from a telephone transcript as relaying Richard Nixon's orders on a strategy to "win" the Vietnam war:

"A massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves.''

As Chomsky points out, this is pretty unequivocal: Nixon's National Security Advisor receives a direct instruction from the President, and proceeds accordingly. The US bombing campaign in Cambodia has been estimated as having killed 600,000 people. Christopher Hitchens quotes this figure on p. 35 of his excoriating The Trial of Henry Kissinger, claiming it is "not the highest estimate". It is highlighted to draw attention to a curious silence in Kamm's post.

What Kamm does consider worth mentioning, however, is a Washington Post article covering the same story. He quotes:

After talking to Nixon, Kissinger got on the phone with [General Alexander] Haig to pass on the president's orders for "a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia," using "anything that flies on anything that moves." The transcript then records an unintelligible comment that "sounded like Haig laughing."

(Kamm's emphasis.) The Washington Post also claims Kissinger adopted a "sardonic" tone amongst his assistants when dealing with Nixon. Note that the transcript - as presented in the Washington Post - unaccountably fails to record the degree of sarcasm with which Kissinger delivered his instructions. Haig may well be "laughing" but whether enjoying a quiet chortle at the amusing foibles of his President - bombing Cambodia! as if! - or indulging a far darker sense of humour is also mysteriously unrecorded. His amusement is, by itself, hardly grounds to clear Kissinger's good name.

That was a relatively minor point. Notice, more seriously, the peculiar gap in the Washington Times quote, where "using" is inserted by the journalist between " Cambodia" and "anything that flies..." A small, but - in our context - highly significant sentence has been dropped from the transcript. This is the unedited original, quoted by Chris Floyd:

"He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. It's an order, it's to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves."

"It's an order, it's to be done." It is, in other words, not a merry little jape. The sentence does not appear in the NYT article, but since Kamm thinks it was "written by a correspondent either ignorant or oblivious", I am inclined to see its omission as an incorrectly-marked ellipsis - especially given the Washington Post's introduction of "using" between the two main sentences. I have no reason to doubt Floyd's citation of the transcript. The middle sentence adds nothing to the argument in his piece, and were he wishing to mislead, it would be easier to simply exclude than to invent new sentences.

It would appear Kamm has, ludicrously, built his case for Kissinger's innocence of war crimes on a journalistic excision for clarity.

(A small footnote: Kamm, when accusing Chomsky of being a "Mosleyite", included a web-link to a fascist site - a shrine to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. If Kamm insists on indulging in cheap and nasty smears, he would be as well to avoid directing his readers to filth like this. Whilst constantly spotting "fascism" where it does not exist, he seems blind to the most elementary rule of anti-fascism: no platform for the vermin.)