Gareth Porter during a February 2012 interview on RT
June 18, 1942 |
Independence, Kansas, United States
|Alma mater||Cornell University|
|Awards||Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism (2012)|
Gareth Porter (born June 18, 1942) is an American historian, investigative journalist, author and policy analyst specializing in U.S. national security policy. He was active as a Vietnam specialist and anti-war activist during the Vietnam War, serving as Saigon Bureau Chief for Dispatch News Service International from 1970–1971, and later, as co-director of the Indochina Resource Center. He has written several books about the potential for peaceful conflict resolution in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, including his 2005 book Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, an analysis of how and why the United States went to war in Vietnam. Porter's analysis and reporting has appeared in academic journals, news publications and periodicals for four decades, and in 2012 he was the winner of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, which is awarded annually by the Frontline Club in London to acknowledge reporting that exposes propaganda.
Education and early career
Porter graduated from the University of Illinois. He received his master's degree in International Politics from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies from Cornell University. He has taught international studies at the City College of New York and American University, and he was the first Academic Director for Peace and Conflict Resolution in the Washington Semester program at American University.
Porter was active as a Vietnam specialist and anti-war activist during the Vietnam War, and was a chairman of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars at Cornell. From 1970–1971, he served as the Saigon Bureau Chief for Dispatch News Service International, and later, he was the co-director of the Indochina Resource Center, an anti-war research and education organization based in Washington, D.C.
Porter regularly reported on political, diplomatic and military developments in the Middle East for Inter Press Service between 2005 and 2014. His analysis and reporting appeared from the 1970s to 1990s in Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and The Journal of Environment & Development, and more recently in Al-Jazeera English, Press TV, The Nation, Salon, The Huffington Post, CounterPunch, Antiwar.com, and Truthout.
Since 2006, Porter has been investigating allegations made by the U.S. and Israel about Iran's nuclear program, and he has done reporting on U.S. diplomacy and military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Porter is also the author of several books, including Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, Vietnam: History in Documents, Vietnam: The Politics of Bureaucratic Socialism (Politics & International Relations of Southeast Asia), Global Environmental Politics (Dilemmas in World Politics), Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, and A Peace Denied: the United States, Vietnam, and the Paris Agreement. His book, Perils of Dominance, analyzes the role of the military in the origins of the Vietnam War.
Gareth Porter wrote a series of articles and academic papers challenging President Richard Nixon's statement that there would be a communist "bloodbath" in South Vietnam if the U.S. withdrew its forces. In his 1973 monograph The Myth of the Bloodbath: North Vietnam’s Land Reform Reconsidered, he challenges the assertion by Indochina expert Bernard Fall that 50,000 may have died in North Vietnam's land reform program and the estimates of others alleging the mass execution of hundreds of thousands of people. His analysis concluded that the real number of casualties was much lower. Scholar Edwin Moise later estimated a death toll of 13,500. but has been challenged by several writers, including Daniel Teoduru, Robert Turner, and Hoang Van Chi.
In 1974, Porter wrote a detailed criticism of U.S. Information Agency official Douglas Pike's account of the "Massacre at Huế during the Tet Offensive." A 1970 report by Stephen T. Hosmer utilizing Viet Cong documents suggested that at least 2,800 persons were killed. Porter claimed that Pike manipulated official figures to make it appear that over 4,700 civilians were murdered by the Viet Cong, and the numbers and causes of death were actually much different.
In 1976, George C. Hildebrand and Porter published a book titled Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, which compared the ways the U.S.-backed Khmer Republic and Communist Party of Kampuchea administrations each dealt with the problem of starvation in Cambodia. It challenged the prevailing media accounts of ideological fanatacism and cruelty by the latter, and argued instead that the Democratic Kampuchea program constituted a rational response to the serious problems confronting the Cambodian nation: disease, starvation, economic devastation, and cities swollen with millions of refugees after years of American bombing.
Testifying before Congress in May 1977, Porter read a prepared statement which began:
The situation in postwar Cambodia has generated an unprecedented wave of emotional—and at times even hysterical—comment in the United States and Western Europe. The closing off of Cambodia to the foreign press, making the refugees the only source of information used by the media, and the tendency of many refugees to offer the darkest possible picture of the country they fled have combined to provide a fertile ground for wild exaggeration and wholesale falsehood about the government and its policies. The result is the suggestion, now rapidly hardening into conviction, that 1 to 2 million Cambodians have been the victims of a regime led by genocidal maniacs. This charge is based on a kernel of truth: There were undoubtedly large numbers of killings in the newly-liberated areas immediately after the war by soldiers of the victorious army, motivated by vengeance, and diseases such as cholera and malaria have taken a heavy toll. Moreover, it may well be true that summary executions have been used by local officials to punish foes of the regime as well as others who have violated regulations. But the notion that the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea adopted a policy of physically eliminating whole classes of people, of purging anyone who was connected with the Lon Nol government, or punishing the entire urban population by putting them to work in the countryside after the "death march" from the cities, is a myth fostered primarily by the authors of a Reader's Digest book which was given massive advance publicity through Time magazine and then again when the book was condensed in Reader's Digest. The charge is not supported by serious documentary evidence, and it is contradicted by a number of reports from refugees themselves. A careful sifting through the available evidence suggests that this charge, like the infamous "bloodbath" in North Vietnam from 1954 to 1956 is an historical myth.
He went on to provide detailed information on conflicting eyewitness accounts by refugees before stating, "Both Ponchaud's and Barron and Paul's books fail to measure up to even the minimum standards of journalism or scholarship, and their overall conclusions and general tone must be regarded as the product of overheated emotions and lack of caution. Moreover, there is enough evidence available from various sources, including material published by Ponchaud himself, to discredit the extreme thesis propounded by both books." When congressman Stephen J. Solarz asked if any of the experts could "explain why what happened in Cambodia actually happened", Porter responded, "I must say that I cannot accept the premise of your question, which is that it is a fact that 1 million people have been murdered systematically or that the Government of Cambodia is systematically slaughtering its people."
Hildebrand and Porter were criticized in 1978 by author William Shawcross for using Khmer Rouge sources in their research. Shawcross commented that their "apparent faith in Khmer Rouge assertions and statistics is surprising in two men who have spent so long analyzing the lies that governments tell." In response to Shawcross, Porter responded, "As anyone who has seen the book will know, nothing could be further from the truth. We document the conditions under which the evacuation took place from Khmer refugee reports, as well as European and American eyewitness accounts." Porter further noted, "It is true, as Shawcross notes from my May 1977 Congressional testimony, that I have changed my view on a number of aspects of the Cambodian situation. I have no interest in defending everything the Khmer government does, and I believe that the policy of self-reliance has been carried so far that it has imposed unnecessary costs on the population of Cambodia. Shawcross, however, clearly does have an interest in rejecting our conclusions. It is time, I suggest, for him to examine it carefully, because it does not make for intellectual honesty. Shawcross responded, "it is a tribute to his own integrity that he now agrees that the Khmer Rouge have imposed 'unnecessary costs' on the Cambodian people. He should, however, be a little more careful before he accuses others of deliberately falsifying evidence and of intellectual dishonesty."
In 2010, Porter said he had been waiting many years for someone to ask him about his earlier views of the Khmer Rouge. He described how the climate of distrust of the government generated during the Vietnam war carried over to Cambodia. "I uncovered a series of instances when government officials were propagandizing [about the Vietnam war]. They were lying," he explained. "I've been well aware for many years that I was guilty of intellectual arrogance. I was right about the bloodbath in Vietnam, so I assumed I would be right about Cambodia."
Porter has reported extensively on Middle East conflicts, and he has written on the Ghouta chemical attacks during the Syrian Civil War. Porter reported in September 2013 on the origins and content of the White House intelligence report entitled Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013, noting that analysis by IPS and interviews with former intelligence officials indicated the report contained only White House-selected information, and did not accurately reflect the views of intelligence analysts. He has further challenged the widely held "assumption that it was a Syrian government-sponsored attack", saying that "significant new information has become available that makes an attack by opposition forces far more plausible than appeared to be the case in the first weeks after the event."
Gareth Porter argues that "the analysis of Khamenei’s fatwa has been flawed" not only because the role of the "guardian jurist" in the Iranian political-legal system is not understood completely, but also because the history of Khamenei's fatwa is ignored. He also says that to understand Iranian policy toward nuclear weapons, one should refer to the "historical episode during its eight-year war with Iraq" which explains why Iran never used chemical weapons against Iraq when seeking revenge for Iraqis attacks which killed 20,000 Iranians and severely injured 100,000 more. Porter argues that this fact strongly suggests that Iran has sincerely banned developing chemical and nuclear weapons and it is "deep-rooted".
In 2012, Porter was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, an award given annually by the Frontline Club in London to acknowledge reporting that exposes official propaganda, for a series of articles about U.S. policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- A Peace Denied: the United States, Vietnam, and the Paris Agreement (1975) – This book is an analysis of the negotiation and implementation of the 1973 Paris Peace Agreement on Vietnam.
- Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution (1976) – This book challenges media claims that the evacuation of cities was motivated by cruelty or ideological fanaticism rather than rational calculation and concern for solving the food problem in Cambodia. It compares the way in which the US-Lon Nol side and the Khmer revolutionaries each dealt with the problem of food and starvation.
- Vietnam: A History in Documents (1981) – Porter originally edited this documentary history of the war in a two-volume hardcover edition published in 1979, and it was reissued in paperback under the above-mentioned title.
- Vietnam: the Politics of Bureaucratic Socialism (1993)
- Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (2005) – This book challenges the liberal interpretation that the Vietnam war was the result of exaggeration of the Communist threat, and emphasizes the role of overconfidence that came with a decisive U.S. power advantage over the Soviet Union and China. Historian Andrew Bacevich, reviewing Perils of Dominance in The Nation, called it "without a doubt, the most important contribution to the history of U.S. national security policy to appear in the past decade."
- Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (2014) – Investigating the "Iran Nuclear Scare" since 2006, this book attempts to debunk myths and disinformation that have been spread by the involved governments.
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- Biographical profile; George Mason University; October, 2005
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- Time to Talk with North Korea; Foreign Policy; No. 34 (Spring, 1979), pp. 52–73
- Cambodia: Sihanouk's Initiative; Foreign Affairs; Spring, 1988
- Trade Competition and Pollution Standards: “Race to the Bottom” or “Stuck at the Bottom”; The Journal of Environment & Development; June 1999; Vol. 8 no. 2 133-151
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- Porter, Gareth. "The Myth of the Bloodbath", Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. September 1973.
- Land Reform in China and North Vietnam (1983)
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- The 1968 'Hue Massacre', Indochina Chronicle 33 (June 24, 1974), 2–13
- Stephen T. Hosmer, Viet Cong Repression and its Implications for the Future (Rand Corporation, 1970), pp. 72–8.
- "An Exchange on Cambodia", New York Review of Books, July 20, 1978, accessed 25 May 2013
- Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Human Rights in Cambodia; The Vietnam Center and Archive
- "Hearing Before the Subcommittee on International Organizations of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, Ninety-fifth Congress, First Session, on: Human Rights in Cambodia, 03 May 1977, Folder 02, Box 12, Douglas Pike Collection: Unit 11 – Monographs, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University, pp. 34 Accessed 6 May. 2014. <http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=2391202002>.ns, May 3, 1977, pp. 33–35 http://www.virtual.vietnam.ttu.edu/cgi-bin/starfetch.exe?y5YIHw.Ap9jQF7zpHs@CdSZQd2YPGf1bR.xqGOxP5YTnDP45riAiTktrK1t3nHMYKZRiGN@pVhOvFweX3jfFUJHualVu0Mr0po@xezRxjKY/2391202002D.pdf
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- In Rush to Strike Syria, U.S. Tried to Derail U.N. Probe; IPS News Agency; August 27, 2013
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- Antiwar.com Gareth Porter archives
- Stories by Gareth Porter for the news agency Inter Press Service
- Interview with Gareth Porter at Talk Nation Radio
- The Myth of the Hue Massacre, Herman, Edward and Porter, Gareth (1975), Ramparts (May–June 1975)
- A Candid Discussion with Gareth Porter – Interview at Foreign Policy Blogs
- Appearances on C-SPAN