The Responsibility of Intellectuals

In response to:

A Special Supplement: The Responsibility of Intellectuals from the February 23, 1967 issue

To the Editors:

…It is interesting to note how Chomsky mishandles Stevenson and misuses documentation to back up his vilification program. Stevenson had said that the Chinese take-over in Tibet, the Sino-Indian border fracas, the infiltration in Malaya and North Thailand were all signs of China’s growing pains bursting out as a generalized policy of expansionism. Chomsky has some difficulty in denying that China did indeed take over a country that did not want to be taken over when it moved into Tibet several years ago; he allows that it is quite possible that infiltration is going on in North Thailand, and that there is at least a “little reason” to suppose it to be Chinese-inspired; and he justifies the Chinese as against the Indians much as Mao does in a map-filled pamphlet issued by the Peking Foreign Language Press in 1962. But his concrete case against the hypocrite-propagandist Stevenson seems to rest on a statement made by Harry Miller about Chinese involvement in Malaya in 1954. Says Chomsky, those “concerned with the actual events would agree with Miller that ‘Communist China continues to show little interest in the Malayan affair beyond its usual fulminations via Peking Radio…’ ” (Communist Menace in Malaya, Praeger, 1954). Let’s check the integrity of this bit of documentation. In the first place, Stevenson’s comment about Chinese expansionism was made shortly before his death; he refers specifically to a twelve-year period during which he felt the Malaysians had to resist a “national liberation” movement sponsored by the Chinese Communists. Assuming that his twelve-year period fell wholly or largely within the period 1954-1965, we can conclude that he and Miller are talking about different portions of Malaya’s history. But even if the assumption is disallowed, Miller—representative of those who, as opposed to Stevenson, are “concerned with the actual events”—makes it clear again and again that since 1924 the Chinese Communists in China were behind the Communist subversion among the “ethnic” Chinese exported to Malaya. In the second place, Miller is admittedly writing as a journalist, with a personal rather than political surview of a situation he very often sensationalizes; there is certainly no reason to suppose that his concern with actual events was more considered than Stevenson’s. In the third place, Chomsky, in keeping with his practice as already noted, radically and irresponsibly (if not hysterically) changes the meaning and application of Miller’s statement by taking it out of the conditional clause in which it was originally contained: “If Communist China continues to show little interest in the Malayan affair beyond its usual fulminations via Peking Radio the Malayan situation will not be affected considerably.” A conditional statement in 1954 can hardly be used as a considered evaluation of the 1966 political and ideological situation in Malaya. Except of course to Chomsky, who, while he does not actually lie, nevertheless manages to avoid the truth. In attempting to prove Stevenson’s hypocrisy, he irresponsibly exposes his own. What’s to be done with such a scholar as this?… Miller, it may be worth noting, goes on to say that Communist China did (in 1954) show a “tremendous interest” in subverting Indonesia, and that such subversion would merely be the prelude to a like subversion of Malaya. In the fourth place, though Chomsky seems oblivious of the subtlety, expansion need no longer mean taking over the actual government of a country, but simply supplying it with one of your own choosing. Pace Chomsky on Stevenson and Miller.

E. B. Murray

Assistant Professor of English

University of Missouri

St. Louis