Dear Keith Windschuttle

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An open letter by Jay Bulworth

Dear Keith,

Just read your piece on Chomsky.

Nice work. Love the bit where you denounce him for spending “most of his adult life … in the critique of other intellectuals”. Such a contrast to what you’ve had to do in recent years.

And that rhetorical flourish at the end is a beauty. Should go down well next time you speak to an audience of rich folks who keep flatterers like you as pets.

Just a few points to help the cause.

1. You shouldn’t spend so much time talking about Cambodia. Brad DeLong didn’t do too well with that one. (I KNOW you know what I’m talking about).

  • a. You gotta read Francois Ponchaud’s book before you praise it. You see, it’s Ponchaud, not Chomsky, who writes favourably about Pol Pot’s “genuine egalitarian revolution” and the “new pride” that peasants have under the Khmer Rouge. Ponchaud later praised Chomsky’s “responsible attitude and precision of thought”. What’re you like with French archives? Someone might ask which parts of Cambodge Annee Zero you’ve read. Thin ice Keith. You gotta skate away quick or that corporate money won’t be behind you this time.
  • b. You say that the Cambodian death toll of 21 per cent of the population was “proportionally the greatest mass killing ever inflicted by a government on its own population in modern times, probably in all history”. Tut, tut. Over the same period (1975-79), the East Timorese genocide resulted in a loss of about 30 per cent of the population — with Western support. Chomsky and Ed Herman were pointing out how the two atrocities were treated very differently by power-worshipping guys like you: East Timor wasn’t discussed but Cambodia was given the full treatment. Just like in your article, right?
  • c. You say “the Vietnamese invasion put an end to the regime”. True, but it’s embarassing. There might be some naive readers out there who’ll ask why the US opposed this humanitarian intervention. And why the US defended the Khmer Rouge. Best to stay clear of this terrain, Keith. It’s treacherous.
  • d. People might ask how Pol Pot came to power. Careful here. Ben Kiernan, whom you cite so approvingly, actually wrote a book called How Pol Pot Came to Power. You’ll have to find some way to avoid talking about the hundreds of thousands killed during the US Air Force bombing of Cambodia.
  • 2. When you say Chomsky “was seeking to play a role in the reorganisation of the international order”, you’ll have to show how. It’s not enough to cite his “advocacy of revolutionary change”. That’s like saying my grandma is “seeking to play a role in the reorganisation of world trade” just because “she reckons Dilmah tea shouldn’t cost so much”.

    3. When you’re sucking up to the wealthy and the powerful, it helps to pretend you’re independent. Too close a connection to big moneyed think-tanks makes it hard to pretend you’re above politics. Might help if you watched Johnny carefully and took notes. He’s good at that.

    4. Best to wait a while before saying the “CIA suspected Iraqi scientists were manufacturing the nerve agent VX” in Sudan. People know the whole thing was a lie invented to convince them to support an oil-grab. Better to talk about something else for now.

    Come to think of it, maybe it’s best if you stuck to bashing blackfellas. Much easier to stay on the corporate payroll if you write about how the Abos and Whiteys were happy until leftie historians began causing problems.

    Then you can appear in newspapers owned by our billionaire masters while complaining about how the “left-wing media” won’t give you publicity.

    Yours in servitude to the rich.

    Jay

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    One Response to “Dear Keith Windschuttle”

    1. Bob Gould Says:

      Windschuttle’s Chomsky article is of a piece with his general rewinding of his own psyche. Who knows, he may eventually get back to childhood.

      In his most seriously left-wing political period, as a confident young veteran of tabloid journalism in his mid-twenties, he edited the Sydney University student paper Honi Soit in a vintage year in the 1960s, and a little later he was one of the editors of The Old Mole.

      His journalism helped introduce to a provincial Australian audience key pieces from the New York Book Review, and he helped to introduce to an Australian audience, Chomsky’s seminal political book, American Power and the New Mandarins.

      This does not sit very well with the picture of himself at that period that he now gives. Windschuttle now suggests that he was a naive young Stalinist at the time, but in fact he was a good deal better than that. The overseas influences that he helped introduce into Australian intellectual life included much better things than naive Stalinism.

      It’s those things he is now slandering in his attack on Chomsky. See my Open Letter for further elaboration on this point.

      As an old associate and contemporary of Windschuttle I organised a debate between him and John Docker on the subject of postmodernism in the central area of my shop in 1996.

      Windschuttle’s criticism of postmodernism was more than half correct (again see my Open Letter) but in retrospect that was an intermediate stage in a shift to the far right.

      Windschuttle is not alone in this shift in Australia. Several of the intellectual leaders of Maoism and New Leftism, Albert Langer, Barry York, Doug Kirsner, and others, have also shifted dramatically to the right.

      Perhaps it would be interesting for Humphrey McQueen to challenge them to a debate, as they were his old associates, just as Windschuttle was an old associate of mine.

      In a similar vein, a few years ago I organised another public debate on the Aboriginal history question. I called in all kinds of old cultural and social connections to set up a public debate in my shop on Aboriginal history.

      Setting up a public debate on this topic is not easy because, in particular, the conservatives whinge that they tend to be shouted down by the leftists.

      But the fact that Paddy McGuinness (Sydney Morning Herald columnist), Windschuttle and myself are all known to each other, despite the fact that McGuinness and I are old enemies, even from the long-past days when McGuinness presented himself as a leftist anarchist. These old connections made the debate just possible.

      McGuinness and Windschuttle found it acceptable to have Hall Greenland as chair. Even though Hall is firmly on the left, he is also an old acquaintance of theirs.

      In the event, about 400 people jammed into my shop, the speakers spoke from the mezzanine level, there was extensive discussion, and the whole event went on for three and a half hours.

      The two defenders of the view that there were massacres of Aboriginal people at the core of Australian historical development were Professor Henry Reynolds, the foremost historian of the question, and myself. On the other side were McGuinness and Windschuttle. My contribution was to do a very thorough overview of the historical material in popular Australiana, often from eyewitnesses or participants, which document the massacres that the Windschuttle-McGuinness denialists now contest.

      This debate was the first attempt to puncture the hysterical momentum that the denialists had been given by the overwhelming support for their views in the Australian bourgeois press. Subsequently there have been a number of other debates. I still have a video of that first debate.

      I subsequently worked up my contribution, including much additional material, into a 30,000-word overview and bibliography of Australian contemporary and historical literature about massacres of Aborigines, which was printed in Labor Review, the magazine of the Melbourne Labor College. It is now on the web.

      From Marxmail, September 8, 2003

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