“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

George Monbiot On Genocide Belittlers.

with 22 comments

George Monbiot has written a fine piece in the Guardian, Left and libertarian right cohabit in the weird world of the genocide belittlers:

“But genocide denial is just as embarrassing to the left as it is to the libertarian right. Last week Edward Herman, an American professor of finance best known for co-authoring Manufacturing Consent with Noam Chomsky, published a new book called The Srebrenica Massacre. It claims that the 8,000 deaths at Srebrenica are “an unsupportable exaggeration. The true figure may be closer to 800.”

Like Karadzic, the book claims that the market massacres in Sarajevo were carried out by Bosnian Muslim provocateurs. It maintains that the Serb forces’ reburial of Bosnian corpses is “implausible and lack[s] any evidential support” (an astonishing statement in view of the ICMP’s findings). It insists that the witnesses to the killings are “not credible” and suggests that the Bosnian Muslim soldiers retreated from Srebrenica to ensure that more Bosnians were killed, in order to provoke US intervention.

These are not the first such claims that Herman has made. Last year, with David Peterson, he published a book called The Politics of Genocide. Mis-citing a tribunal judgment, he maintains that the Serb forces “incontestably had not killed any but ‘Bosnian Muslim men of military age’.” Worse still, he places the Rwandan genocide in inverted commas throughout the text and maintains that “the great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million”, and that the story of 800,000 “largely Tutsi deaths” caused by genocide “appears to have no basis in any facts”. It’s as straightforward an instance of revisionism as I’ve ever seen, comparable in this case only to the claims of the genocidaires themselves.

But here’s where it gets really weird. The cover carries the following endorsement by John Pilger. “In this brilliant exposé of great power’s lethal industry of lies, Edward Herman and David Peterson defend the right of us all to a truthful historical memory.” The foreword was written by Noam Chomsky. He doesn’t mention the specific claims the book makes, but the fact that he wrote it surely looks like an endorsement of the contents. The leftwing website Media Lens maintained that Herman and Peterson were “perfectly entitled” to talk down the numbers killed at Srebrenica. What makes this all the more remarkable is that Media Lens has waged a long and fierce campaign against Iraq Body Count for underestimating the number killed in that country.

Why is this happening? Both the LM network and Herman’s supporters oppose western intervention in the affairs of other nations. Herman rightly maintains that far more attention is paid to atrocities committed by US enemies than to those committed by the US and its allies. But both groups then take the unwarranted step of belittling the acts of genocide committed by opponents of the western powers.

The rest of us should stand up for the victims, whoever they are, and confront those trying to make them disappear.”

The original post with full references can be seen at Monbiot’s site.

Update 1: In a hole, stop digging, but Media Lens carry on:

“One initial thought. Monbiot writes:

‘The leftwing website Media Lens maintained that Herman and Peterson were “perfectly entitled” to talk down the numbers killed at Srebrenica.’

What does ‘talk down’ really mean here? Downplay? Underestimate? Deliberately underestimate? Dishonestly underestimate?

In fact, last week we spelled out our position to Monbiot on Twitter:

‘We’re saying +everyone+ is entitled to debate facts. Who are we, or you, to say they are not? Do you possess Absolute Truth?’

Imagine how it would have looked for him, if he had honestly represented our position:

‘The leftwing website Media Lens maintained that Herman and Peterson were “perfectly entitled” to debate the numbers killed at Srebrenica.’

As Monbiot also knows (we sent him a link to what follows), this is also what we wrote in 2009:

‘It is certainly true that we have posted articles by Herman and Peterson discussing the massacre on our website. But it is simply false to suggest that they have argued that “the genocide at Srebrenica was all a hoax”. Herman and Peterson have written:

‘”The Srebrenica massacre took place in the month before Operation Storm, Croatia’s devastating attack and ethnic cleansing of some 250,000 Serbs from the Krajina, with over 1,000 civilians killed, including over 500 women and children…” (Edward Herman and David Peterson, ‘The Dismantling of Yugoslavia,’ Monthly Review, October 2007;

‘Their very rational concern is to discuss the “asymmetry in how the Srebrenica massacre and Operation Storm have entered the Western canon”. (Ibid) Their interest, then, is in precisely +comparing+ how these two horrific massacres were treated by Western politics and media. Herman and Peterson have also written:

‘”There is a good case to be made that, while there were surely hundreds of executions, and possibly as many as a thousand or more, the 8,000 figure is a political construct and eminently challengeable.” (Herman and Peterson, ‘Milosevic’s Death in the Propaganda System,’ ZNet, May 14, 2006;

‘Herman and Peterson, then, are +not+ denying that mass killings took place at Srebrenica. They also do not accept the figure cited by Kamm and others, but that they are perfectly entitled to do. The point is that while critics are free to take issue with their facts, sources and arguments, it is nonsense to accuse them of sins that are the “moral equivalent of Holocaust denial”. And to associate us with Holocaust denial on the grounds that we publish their material is desperate indeed.’

Notice that Monbiot has smeared us in a national newspaper on a subject we have never written about beyond the above explanation of why we posted, or linked to, articles by Herman and Peterson on the subject on our website. We have not ourselves ever written about the Srebrenica massacre other than to affirm that it took place. For this, according to Monbiot, we are guilty of the thought crime of ‘genocide denial’.”

[My emphasis.]

22 Responses

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  1. Agreed, an excellent piece isn’t it.

    I never could get my head around the LM rabble. Any time I read it I got the impression that they were a bunch of nutcases and arseholes

    jams o donnell

    14/06/2011 at 17:00

  2. Indeed, I am not one of his fans but it is a fine piece of writing.

    I get the impression that Media Lens is stuffed full of Post Modernist types, for whom everything is a “narrative” and there are no factual truths, weird eh?


    14/06/2011 at 18:11

  3. After reading the piece I had to check make sure it was Monbiot – it was a fine piece.


    14/06/2011 at 19:15

  4. George Monbiot writes; ‘ The rest of us should stand up for the victims,whoever they are and confront those trying to make them dissapear’.

    Unless of course the victims are Serbs, when the victims are Serbs it doesn’t really matter does it,? the mass media quite happily projected it’s ”Hierarchy of victims” in which some were more deserving of attention and public outrage than others, the Serbs were quite noticably at the bottom of that hierachy, if they were even on the chart at all.

    When a mass grave was made up of Serbs – who cared, when the Serbs were victims of ethnic cleansing, who cared- when Serb rural villages were routinely raided and all kinds of war crimes committed against them- who cared,when Naser Oric burnt down Serbian homes and murdered civilians.. who cared?.

    Attrocities were committed on all sides against eachother during a complex bloody tripartite conflict, Crimes were commited by bosnian Muslims against Serbs,by Croats against Muslims, by bosnian Muslims against Croats,by Croats against Serbs and by Serbs against Muslims and Croats. Yet the focus is only ever on the Serbs, in the 1990’s the media showed pictures only from Serbian prison camps, yet the UN had identified nine prison camps in Bosnia,, six were Croatian, two Serbian and one Muslim, violations of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights occured in all of them, but only the Serbian ones would be the subject of ‘pullitzer prize winning photo journalists zoom in lenses, the ethnic cleansing and the crimes commited against the Serbian people has been continually ignored,mocked and minimised and the Hague has an anti Serb bias impossible to mask, they only pursued alleged Serb criminals in a complicated triparttie conflict, and although a few Croat and Bosnian Muslim criminals were indicted, they were only only accused of doing harm to one anothers civilian population, not to those of the Serbs, and even when indicted, they were mainly released.
    This does not exonerate the crimes committed by Serbian militias, but simply maintains that that all sides in the conflict committed atrocities against eachother,but only one side would be publicly blamed.


    14/06/2011 at 23:00

  5. smx,

    You are yet again assuming bad faith on this topic.

    I do wish you’d stop that attitude, it is not helpful when discussing these complex issues.

    “but only one side would be publicly blamed.”

    Please show me where in this article anyone who is blaming the Serbs, and them alone? They aren’t.

    You are erect strawmen, by the field and acre.

    This article is not critical of the Serbs, rather those in the *West*, that would minimise, apologise, and detract from what happened in the former Yugoslavia.

    That is the point, and I wish you would engage with it.

    Herman and co are contending very openly that less than 10% of those really killed at Srebrenica were actually killed.

    That is not a minor point, Herman and co have persistently taken this line, in spite of the volume of evidence, DNA evidence to the contrary.

    So please think about what Herman and his fellow activists are getting at and then address these issues, again.


    14/06/2011 at 23:12

  6. This comment some’s it up best

    “He sets up a target of whom most are unaware and whose influence is minimal and then proceeds to attack them.

    I cannot help but think the victims of these crimes are belittled by the process.”

    “whom most of us are unaware and whose influence in none” would be a better way of putting it

    In this country one person in a hundred has ever heard of Hermann or Peterson, a pretty poor excuse to bash Chomsky and Pilger by guilt by association, he may as well go through the whole Faurisson affair again, I would expect better from Montbiot.


    14/06/2011 at 23:35

  7. Asteri,

    Let me make something very clear, unlike other commenters on this topic, *I have no dog in this race*. I have no personal stake in this matter.

    However, one thing is very clear to me from reading Herman & Co work’ss that they seek to minimise these atrocities.

    So do you accept that or not? Or would you think that they are honest observers? [that’s not a rhetorical question]

    Now if you accept that premise (and I’m assuming you’re a moderately logical person here) it follows that Chomsky and Pilger, given their critical eyes and intellectual depth might have noticed that.

    So having noticed that Herman & co use disreputable methods, then Chomsky and Pilger should have dissociated themselves, not to do so suggest that they actually agree with Herman & Co.

    Therefore, there’s no guilt by association. It is a simple fact that Chomsky and Pilger should see the starkly obvious, and if they can’t bear either not intellectually up to the job, can’t be bothered, or agree with those authors, in the first place

    I hope you’re following this.

    Thus, we accept for the sake of argument that Herman and Co are minimisers,contextualisers and apologists , it follows then that Chomsky and Pilger should have seen it. And if they didn’t they are at fault, and if they did but couldn’t be bothered again they are at fault.

    I hope that explains it.


    15/06/2011 at 00:41

  8. I don’t actually disagree with most of that, I’ve not read anything by Hermann but I assume he’s wilfully ignorant or just doesn’t care about it. Its like the Faurisson affair, I imagine the Pilger and Chomsky did it in support of free speech, I doubt they agree 100%, Chomsky is a friend of Hermann so there are personal issues as well. However it’s not something I would have done and I agree that neither should have done it, but from what I read about Hermann on wikipedia, the theme of his book is about how some genocides are given huge exposure in the west while others are ignored e.i Armenian and East Timor for cynical political reasons (Armenian genocide denial is pretty common in the west), I don’t think that’s controversial. Its debatable if East Timor was a genocide or not but its something that Chomsky and Pilger have spent decades trying to expose, I suspect that’s why they supported Herman’s book.


    15/06/2011 at 13:07

  9. “I don’t actually disagree with most of that, I’ve not read anything by Hermann but I assume he’s wilfully ignorant or just doesn’t care about it. “

    So basically you’re saying you haven’t read the evidence and are making assumptions accordingly?

    Surely, even you know how faulty that thinking is.

    I’m not a specialist on the Balkans, but even I read them in the original, not their wiki entries, but their original text, so should you.

    Their works are available on the Web. It’s perfectly possible to read one of their papers in 10 minutes and draw your own conclusions.

    That’s what you should do, read the evidence draw a conclusion, the alternative which is, not reading the evidence and making an assumption is painfully wrong


    15/06/2011 at 13:13

  10. I’ve not read his books[1], i’ve read a few of his essays, I know what his position is, his writing on the Balkans are all much of a muchness, my conclusions remain the same as I said before I don’t support his position on Srebrenica but I do agree that genocide is selective and politicised he’s not the only one to say that (see Norman Finkelstein).

    [1] His latest book is on-line and I have read through a bit, again its what I expected.


    15/06/2011 at 14:57

  11. Why do you bother arguing, if you’re not serious?

    Firstly, you make the point you haven’t read him, next you make assumptions on his views having not read him.

    That is profoundly illogical.

    It is easy, dare I say, trivial to look up his views and see that he’s clearly a genocide denier.

    He clearly thinks that only a few hundred people at Srebrenica were killed.

    That’s not me saying it, that’s his own words read them, don’t be lazy, read them, be serious.

    And *if* you can manage to pick out the denial, ask yourself the obvious question, why the world’s leading intellectual, Chomsky couldn’t?

    It is all here:

    The 8,000 figure is also incompatible with the basic arithmetic of Srebrenica numbers before and after July 1995. Displaced persons from Srebrenica-that is, massacre survivors– registered with the World Health Organization and Bosnian government in early August 1995, totalled 35,632. Muslim men who reached Muslim lines “without their families being informed” totaled at least 2,000, and some 2,000 were killed in the fighting. That gives us 37,632 survivors plus the 2,000 combat deaths, which would require the prewar population of Srebrenica to have been 47,000 if 8,000 were executed, whereas the population before July was more like 37-40,000 (Tribunal judge Patricia Wald gave 37,000 as her estimate). The numbers don’t add up. [45]

    There were witnesses to killings at Srebrenica, or those who claimed to be witnesses. There were not many of these, and some had a political axe to grind or were otherwise not credible, [46] but several were believable and were probably telling of real and ugly events. But we are talking here of evidence of hundreds of executions, not 8,000 or anything close to it. The only direct participant witness claim that ran to a thousand was that of Drazen Erdemovic, an ethnic Croat associated with a mercenary group of killers whose members were paid 12 kilos of gold for their Bosnian service (according to Erdemovic himself) and ended up working in the Congo on behalf of French intelligence. His testimony was accepted despite its vagueness and inconsistencies, lack of corroboration, and his suffering from mental problems sufficient to disqualify him from trial–but not from testifying before the Tribunal, free of cross-examination. within two weeks of this disqualification from trial. This and other witness evidence suffered from serious abuse of the plea-bargaining process whereby witnesses could receive mitigating sentences if they cooperated sufficiently with the prosecution. [47] “


    15/06/2011 at 16:32

  12. Mod, I’m being perfectly serious and I’m not defending Hermann’s opinions, I think the accusations that Monbiot and yourself are making against Pilger and Chomsky are pretty vague and rest on what the two havn’t said rather than what they have said.

    Monbiot says of Chomsky

    ” He doesn’t mention the specific claims the book makes, but the fact that he wrote it surely looks like an endorsement of the contents”

    The last part is nothing other than Monbiot’s own opinion.

    I’m not aware that Chomsky has ever described himself as the “worlds leading intellectual”


    15/06/2011 at 20:29

  13. “Chomsky is voted world’s top public intellectual”

    Of course, it may be that Chomsky didn’t read the book, didn’t discuss it and is blissfully unaware of its contents or the controversies surrounding its minimalisation of murder at Srebrenica.

    Chomsky may be ignorant of all of that.

    But then he can hardly be called intellectually competent, should that be the case.

    Again, Herman’s views are very obvious, you only need to read one essay to get the point.

    Herman doesn’t believe that 8000 or anywhere near that figure were murdered at Srebrenica and if Chomsky is oblivious to the issues then he’s either completely intellectually negligent or an idiot.


    15/06/2011 at 21:23

  14. After checking for Chomsky’s views on Srebrenica I found this in my copy of New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo, 1999)

    “the Serb attack on Srebrenica, which lead to the slaughter of 7000 people”

    found in Chapter 2, Before the Bombing. p32.

    once more, being voted to that meaningless position by others does not mean that he thinks of himself that way.


    15/06/2011 at 22:36

  15. How many times do we have to go round the houses with this?

    You wish to exculpate Chomsky.

    You play at being obtuse, then knowing Herman’s views, finally somehow having insights to Chomsky’s psyche and yet you can’t see the disparity?

    Let’s leave it, I am very tired of discussing issues with you.


    15/06/2011 at 22:47

  16. Modernity,. you’re wasting your time discussing the subject with Asteri. If you go back to the discussion in January that followed the guest post by crypto-victim of McCarthyism David Gibbs, you’ll find that BobfromBrockley summed up Chomsky’s mendacity very succinctly at the time but Asteri clearly found Bob’s description too unpalatable to recognise.

    “Of course Chomsky espouses an anti-Stalinist theory, but I find him far from anti-Stalinist in practice. His political praxis is pure Second Campism, which the Erica Blairs of this world might approve of but which I believe Eric Blair would have seen right through. Chomsky will accept any crime committed by America and its allies as genocide, but will never accept that label when the crime is committed by a state in the other camp, however brutal. Chomsky’s policy of tendentious comparison, taken up by a number of the commenters here, is designed to minimise, relativise and apologise for every crime committed by the “anti-imperialist” camp and to maximise and exaggerate every crime committed by the Western camp.

    See these comment threads:


    At the same time others of us pointed to the specific instance of Chomsky’s persistent denial of the substance of ITN’s reporting of the camp at Trnopolje, relying on the LM arguments that had already been conclusively rubbished. Chomsky has on various occasions contributed to the effort of keeping those spurious claims alive, ensuring that attention is distracted from the atrocities committed at the same time at Omarska and the other Serb camps in the Prijedor system. When his weaselly attempts to wriggle away from the accusations against him come up against the reality of the facts, he then disappears behind the skirt-tails of his crisis staff, Herman and Peterson.

    Chomsky told truth to power by colluding with Serbian Television over the Serb propagandists’ interpretation of the ITN reporting. RTS has now – finally – apologised for its role in misleading the Serbian public. Somehow I doubt that Chomsky will be following RTS’s example in the near future, or that Asteri will be pressing him to.

    Respect to George Monbiot for not letting the truth be obliterated by the well-heeled colluders at the world’s former most respected newspaper and respect to you for resisting the smtx01 / Asteri / frunobulax coterie here.


    17/06/2011 at 11:09

  17. Owen,

    You’re right. My memory’s not what it was, I should know better than to argue over the Balkans, but I always hope there’s a slim chance that someone might see a bit of reason on the topic!


    17/06/2011 at 13:04

  18. Modernity, what you and I understand by reason has nothing to do with it. Essentially it’s a matter of there being a stake in maintaining an alternative version of the truth. The fact that Karadzic and Mladic are on trial at The Hague is one reason, but at the back of it all is Serbia’s need to avoid reparations.

    Extraordinarily, on page 16 of his preface to his current Srebrenica oeuvre “The Srebrenica Massacre: Evidence, Context Politics” Ed Herman acknowledges:

    “The authors are indebted to many scholars in the field, most of whom are cited in our endnotes. We are grateful to Phillip Corwin, who was the highest ranking UN civilian official in Bosnia-Herzegovina in July 1995, for his Foreword to this book. David Peterson has been indispensable in helping get the book into final shape. Others who have been helpful to this project are the late Milan Bulajic, Kole Kilibarda, Diana Johnstone, Stephen Karganovic, Sanjoy Mahajan, George Pumphrey, Milivoje Ivanisevic, Vera Vratusa, and Darko Trifunovic. The authors alone are responsible for the analyses and arguments included in this volume.”

    If Herman is happy to acknowledge the assistance of Darko Trifunovic – the incompetent author of the first Republika Srpska Report on Case Srebrenica – the saddest apology for an official report you’re ever likely to come across – he’s drowning not waving from the bottom of the lavatory pan. The sad target of the relentless.

    But he’s not just happy to associate his group with Trifunovic, he links it up to a whole group of unambiguous genocide deniers – Milan Bulajic (“Members of the Army of the Serb Republic did not commit genocide against the Muslims in Srebrnica in July 1995. To support that, I am ready to stake my entire 50-year professional career” –, Stefan Karganovic, Momcilo Krajisnik’s friend in court in Krajisnik’s trial at the ICTY and inspiration behind the Srebrenica Historical Project, “a terrible massacre of prisoners of war took place there … But we want that event to be placed in its proper legal and moral perspective. That would probably exclude calling it “genocide” or regarding the Serbian people as a whole or in part being in any way responsible for it.”, Milivoje Ivanisevic, whose Chronicle of Our Graves was effectively rubbished by the ICTY spokesperson at

    These are not simply academic revisionists, these are people with a commitment to the defence of those responsible and they have a stake in fostering doubt and uncertainty about the crime. That’s why you should give up hope of people seeing a bit of reason when you embark on a discussion of Srebrenica. Discussion is not what the game’s about.

    If you run, howl and bite in harmony with a pack of dogs, it’s not unreasonable to assume that you’re canine, even if you don’t go so far as to describe your four-legged friends’ work as outstanding scholarship. In the knowledge that he can always rely on Chomsky to guarantee his public credentials, Herman seems to have thrown caution to the winds.


    27/06/2011 at 08:57

  19. Sorry about that “The sad target of the relentless” left-over. It was going to be an in-passing comment about Trifunovic and his alleged association with Karadzic and Mladic in particular that I was going to leave out as “surplus to requirements” but hadn’t deleted properly. Trifunovic is pursued around the internet by the relentless though not always completely balanced Jill Starr, a former associate of his from the time when he was a Bosnian diplomat at the UN and involved with the “Law Centers Project”. In the pre-Karadzic and Mladic arrest days she would post her “What It’s Like to Chill Out With The World’s Most Ruthless Man/Men” memoir as a comment on every relevant blog she could find (did she ever pass through here?). The account told how Trifunovic “introduced her to” Mladic, freely and openly enjoying the pleasures of outdoor life in Belgrade. She gives an impression she’s sending out the message to Trifunovic (and others) “Don’t forget me, I know where the bodies are”.


    27/06/2011 at 09:26

  20. Thanks Owen, I always appreciate your thoughtful contributions,


    27/06/2011 at 11:10

  21. Media lens have since posted a full response to this attempted smear by monbiot. In the interests of fairness and impartiality, will you publish it?

    Jake davies

    16/08/2011 at 03:33

  22. Where is it and *does* it fully answer Monbiot’s points?


    16/08/2011 at 10:24

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