[Viewpoint] Beware of dogmatic intellectuals

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[Viewpoint] Beware of dogmatic intellectuals

Linguist Noam Chomsky, an iconic figure among American intellectuals, constantly opposed the U.S. intervention in Indochina and actively led the anti-war movement in America. Chomsky and a group of leftist intellectuals are considered to have played a crucial role in ending the Vietnam War and the resulting withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Indochina. However, Chomsky did not stop there, and what he did next left a serious stain on his otherwise admirable intellectual track record.

The communist government that seized power in Cambodia after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces committed one of the cruelest genocides in history. The sites of the notorious massacre are remembered as the “Killing Fields.”

Chomsky and fellow intellectuals had claimed that the United States was responsible for the extreme poverty in Indochina and the consequent violence. They could not believe the communist regime they had supported committed the gruesome killings in Cambodia. As clear pieces of evidence of the massacres were revealed one after another, Chomsky and others gradually changed their position. At first, they insisted that there were no mass killings and that the killing fields were fabricated by the West. Then, they claimed there might have been small-scale killings, but the suffering of Cambodia had been exaggerated and taken advantage of by the West.

When the large-scale killings were proven to have taken place, they came up with a bizarre explanation that war crimes by the United States had made the Cambodian peasants more cruel. Finally, as further facts about the massacres were revealed, they argued that the Cambodian regime at the time lost the initial Marxist flair and became a tool of fanatical patriotism and populism.

They provided a truly creative interpretation that the crimes of the Pol Pot regime were in fact crimes of the United States as it had exaggerated and encouraged the massacre demagogically. (See Paul Johnson, “Intellectuals.”)

Chomsky, who posed as the conscience of America, was trapped in his ideological dogma and became a captive of the fabrication he created. He turned away from the truth. His case is a good example of how easily an intellectual can distort reality and mislead the public when he is absorbed in ideology.

The joint statements by some university professors after the suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun shows how easily intellectuals in our society can be swayed by demagoguery and fall into an illusion.

The suicide of the former president is defined as “a murder by political retaliation” and is interpreted as a retreat of democratization, leading to demands that the current administration step down. On the Internet, the death of the former president is compared to the poisoning of King Jeongjo, and conspiracy theories concerning murder by the government are spreading as if they were facts.

The objective fact of the suicide of former President Roh has turned into a cause for anti-government struggle as it has gone through some image manipulation and logical jumps.

It’s pathetic that the professors are swayed by irresponsible instigation and produce joint statements as if they are not intellectuals unless they take part when they are supposed to act based on facts and logic.

Moreover, the opposition party and anti-government groups are engaged in igniting the anti-government flames.

However, let’s look back calmly. Can the suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun really be a cause for anti-government struggle?

I believe that the person who understands the real situation of the death of Mr. Roh is Moon Jae-in, former Blue House chief of staff. From Roh’s days in office to his retirement, he assisted Roh from the closest distance. In an interview with Hankyoreh, a progressive newspaper, he said, “Former President Roh felt ethical responsibility fiercely.”

He said he did not want to claim that the death was a murder by political retaliation. How can you be clearer on the background of the death? If there were even the slightest doubt, Moon is the one who would be most furious and be the first to make disclosures. However, he has been keeping quiet since the interview. All the suspicions, exaggerations and distortions were fabricated or magnified by those who are trying to take advantage of Roh’s death.

Paul Johnson fiercely condemns the irresponsible intellectuals. “Beware intellectuals,” he said. “Not merely should they be kept from the levers of power, they should also be objects of particular suspicion when they seek to offer collective advice.”

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo
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